Borealis shines in 2001 American Solar Challenge

Overcoming electrical problems early in the race, the University's

solar vehicle team and its fifth-generation car, Borealis, surged

to a sixth-place finish in the 2001 American Solar Challenge. Twenty-seven

college teams competed in the 2,300-mile, 10-day race from Chicago

to Claremont, California, along historic U.S. Route 66.

Completely redesigned from the ground up, Borealis incorporated

new technology designed to help it surpass the benchmarks set by

its predecessor, Aurora 4, including a new aerodynamic shape, more

efficient solar cells and batteries, and an upgraded electrical


"Nearly every system in this car is completely new," says team

captain Lisa Mauer. "Unfortunately, we ran into some unpredictable

glitches once we got out of Chicago."

Rough road conditions on the first day of the race caused a short

in Borealis' electrical system, destroying 16 power trackers that

maximize the power entering the batteries from the solar array.

With the array disabled, the team was forced to race on battery

power and ended the second day in a disappointing 19th place. But

team members remained in good spirits, says Mauer, and they quickly

devised a plan to keep Borealis in the race, using an emergency

shipment of power trackers removed from previous models. They spent

rest periods during the next three days rewiring 3,400 cells in

the solar array.

Once the repairs were finished, Borealis completed the remaining

legs of the race in record times.

"The car performed phenomenally," says Mauer. "We raced at the

speed limit for the last several days of the race. We finished in

the top three most days and would have ended up at the top of the

pack if not for the [electrical] problems."

Borealis finished the competition with an elapsed race time of

66 hours and 59 minutes. The University of Michigan's entry, M-Pulse,

finished in first place with an elapsed time of 56 hours and 10


"Overall, I'm really proud of our performance," says Mauer. "Our

electrical problems were frustrating, but the team really pulled

together to get us back in the race. It was a great learning experience

for all of us."

The team hopes to race Borealis in the World Solar Challenge in

Australia in October. Members will spend the next few months refining

the car and raising funds to make the trip.

Mauer is optimistic about the team's prospects in the international

race. "The American Solar Challenge was perfect preparation," she

says. "This car could do exceptionally well in Australia."

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