For a solar car race, having just 12 minutes between the first and third place teams after 700 miles is extremely close, says Alex Dowling, head strategist from 2009’s team Infinium. Here’s what he had to say about the U-M team’s place and the effects of the bush fire that halted traffic:
At this point during the last race the first place team was probably 30-45 minutes ahead of second. During the last few World Solar Challenge events the first place team has gone unchallenged, for the most part, after the first day. Having first, second and third place still very close is very exciting.
The delays due to the fire are, to my knowledge in WSC, unprecedented. Luckily the top three teams are very close, thus each gets about the same charging advantage.
Who will come out ahead with this new twist? Whoever drove with the most aggressive strategy thus far. Each team has a group of strategists that predict the car’s performance and determines maximum speed the car can drive without depleting the battery. A computer can calculate this optimal set speed; the results, however, are very sensitive to weather predictions, which are never perfect. As a result, the strategists need to make a judgment call.
From the information available in the States, it appears all teams were allowed to charge at the make-shift control stop. This means that if a team drove too aggressively the first day-and-a-half, nature has given them a gift. With unplanned-for energy, their previously “too aggressive” strategy may now be just right. If a team drove too conservatively for the last day-and-a-half, it will now be even harder to catch up.
Does this make the picture look bad for Michigan? Not necessarily. It all comes down the strategy. I suspect the set speeds for each team’s strategy software are very close. As a result Tokai, the current leader, is driving a speed they think is reasonable (and won’t cause the other teams to overtake them.) Nuon and Michigan are driving approximately the same speed as Tokai because (1) they don’t want to fall behind and (2) Tokai’s speed is within the margin of error of their computer simulations. I should reiterate this is all speculation.
I expect either Nuon, Michigan or Tokai to “make a move” by speeding up either tomorrow afternoon and Wednesday morning (Aussie time). Right now all of the teams are just waiting to see what someone will do.
Diederik Kinds, a retired solar car racer from Nuon, summarized the situation the best yesterday evening in an online chat: “If they were playing poker, nobody is placing any bets here, they are just checking through until the dealer puts an interesting card on the table.” Has mother nature just dealt the interesting card? We shall see.
Here is the following advice I’d give to the current strategists: trust your instincts and when in doubt, be aggressive.
-Nicole Moore, Ann Arbor
With the World Solar Challenge on hold due to a brush fire, the leading teams’ strategies will likely change, says Caitlin Sadler, the U-M team’s PR manager who stayed in Ann Arbor.
Race officials stopped the contest yesterday afternoon (Darwin time). The top three, Tokai University, Nuon Solar Car Team, and U-M, camped in Wauchope, 72 miles down the road from the rest of the cars, which parked at the Tenet Creek control stop.
Teams got a couple extra hours of daylight to charge their batteries and regroup, which is a unique opportunity.
“These are interesting circumstances and strategies will have to be adjusted,” Sadler said. “But with the others being held back at Tenet Creek, there really is a leader group and Michigan is in it.”
U-M was in third place about 12 minutes behind the leader yesterday when the race stopped. That’s close, say current team members and alums.
“Anything can happen in solar racing,” said Julia Hawley, the business director of team Infinium in 2009. “The team should focus on running the best race they can and not get too caught up in what other teams are doing. The race is really going to come down to reliability and teamwork. The first day seems like it was a very close race, so every second counts. Having no time on the side of the road and having really smooth maneuvers is really going to matter.”
Sadler agrees. “I think it’s still really close, especially because you’ve got so many miles left in the race. It could be a real race for the finish, which is exciting!”
-Nicole Moore, Ann Arbor
Just 16 of the 100-plus students who dreamed, designed and built the Quantum 2011 solar car are in Australia about to race it. The rest of the team is scattered - either home for fall break or catching up on homework in Ann Arbor. This weekend, many of them will be glued to their computers in the wee hours of the morning clamoring for updates from the race crew on the other side of the world.
“We will all be following along!” interim project manager Eric Hausman wrote in an email at 2:57 a.m.
“Team members and alumni will be managing our live chat where we hope to be able to supply as up to the date information as we know,” he said. “We will also be able to watch the Michigan vs. Michigan State game in HD. Rest assured the race crew will find some standard definition way to watch it or keep up to date somehow, but there need to be at least a few perks for those of us still here! Unfortunately we will also be doing homework.”
Australia is more than 13 hours ahead of the U.S. Eastern Time zone. When the car hits the Stuart Highway at 8 a.m. over there, it’s 6:30 p.m. in Michigan. When Quantum stops for the day at 5 p.m., it’s 3:30 a.m. here.
The time difference can compound the distance for the team back home.
“I feel like U.S. team members can feel disconnected,” said Caitlin Sadler, the team’s PR manager. “But at the same time, everyone worked so hard on the car together and we really trust the race crew. We know they’ll be able to deal with whatever comes up and do the best they can.”
Many of the Stateside students played an integral role in getting Quantum rolling. They were designers, builders, aerodynamics specialists, fundraisers…. Others are new. After the race crew left in early September, the team started recruiting and training the next generation. They’re already brainstorming big ideas for 2013. The key innovation for Infinium (2009) and Quantum is that they’re super lightweight. Continuum from 2007 sported a solar concentrator system of mirrors to intensify sunlight. What will they think of next?