Michigan’s other team in the race, Western Michigan University, was relegated to display car status early in the event after their vehicle experienced persistent electrical problems.
The week-long, biennial 1,100-mile competition for solar-powered vehicles started in Broken Arrow, Okla., on June 20 and ended in Naperville, Ill., on Saturday, June 26. The UM car was the first of 13 to cross the finish line at around 2 p.m. Eastern time, for a final time of 28 hours, 14 minutes and 44 seconds. This is the sixth North American title for UM, which won the inaugural event in 1990 with its first car, the Sunrunner.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said engineering student Steve Durbin, the team’s race manager. “This race means a lot to us because we’re defending our home territory. It’s great to see that all of our hard work paid off.”
The team’s car, Infinium, was reliable, Durbin said, whereas breakdowns dogged other fast teams. The UM students faced only minor setbacks. Rain shorted out a lighting board, but they managed to fix it in five minutes on the roadside. A black widow spider moved into the spare battery pack, but the students removed it with a long pair of pliers.
“Everything went pretty smoothly,” Durbin said.
This marks the end of the road for Infinium, the 10th-generation car. Each car runs two races — the North American race and the global race in Australia. In the 2009 Global Green Challenge (formerly the World Solar Challenge), Infinium placed third. That was the fourth time in the team’s history that UM has finished third in the world race.
Infinium is believed to be the university’s fastest solar car ever. It reached 100 mph in testing. The car traveled the speed limit during the race, which passed through many small towns with traffic lights. On the highways, the limit was 65 mph.
With more than 100 members, Solar Car is one of the largest student organizations on campus, including students from the College of Engineering; College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; Ross School of Business; School of Art & Design; and School of Education. Major sponsors this year include Michigan Engineering, Ford, General Motors, Delta and AT&T.
As for WMU, its car, Sunseeker, dropped out of the race June 21 after being plagued with electrical problems. It started the race June 20 with a conditional qualification. The WMU team’s goal was to complete the race’s first leg in order to secure full qualification status from race officials.
By day’s end June 20, Sunseeker was one of four ASC competitor vehicles that had not made it to the official checkpoint in Neosho, Mo., resulting in a decision to withdraw the vehicle from the official roster.
The WMU team continued along the race route and displayed its car in communities along the course that serve as race checkpoints or overnight stops. The car was also on display at the finish line.