Solar cars take over track at Heartland Motorsports Park

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TOPEKA (KSNT) – Twelve college teams from across the country are in Topeka this weekend racing solar cars in the Formula Sun Grand Prix.

“They’ve been working on this for years, designing on this car, working on pieces of it, and it’s just really cool to see the culmination of electrical, mechanical, all kinds of engineering coming together and create a road-legal vehicle,” said Rishi Mohan with the Illini Solar Car team.

They’re seeing how many laps they can complete, and it’s not always an easy process. The team from Illinois had to make a pit stop because a section of solar panels came loose. Organizers said learning from challenges like these is what the event is all about.

“This is the hands-on learning experience. This is going beyond what they learn in the classroom, there’s no textbook solution here to a problem or to a test that they’re going to take,” said Event Director Gail Lueck. “This is an apply what you’ve learned in the classroom, apply even what you’ve learned outside of the classroom.”

A team from MIT said striving to have the best car is part of it, but it’s not just about who finishes in first place.

“More than the competitiveness, it’s about team members growing and learning as engineers,” said Diane Li with the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team.

Students said challenging each other is a good way to help develop what technology cars of the future could use.

“I think that what’s exciting about this is the fact that we can do it, and we can make a zero-emissions vehicle, completely renewable energy,” Li said. “It builds up the expertise for our students and our team members to go into industry and have this interest in renewable energy and keep working towards that.”

Students do have to put in a lot of work to get here.

“Designing and building a solar car over two years, managing that budget, managing a team of volunteers, figuring out your logistics of how you’re getting to Topeka and spending a week baking in the sun,” Lueck said. “All of that really becomes this great experience that will help them no matter which industry they go on into in the future.”

Depending on how they do in Topeka this weekend, the next step is to head out on the road. The American Solar Challenge race starts next week in Independence, Missouri, and runs through Kansas to New Mexico.

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