Solar car team design goals: Efficiency, safety

Published on Sunday, 7 July 2013 23:16 - Written by



BULLARD — After months of hard work, it’s almost time for the Bullard Solar Car Team to race.

Members are testing brakes, working on promotional videos and putting the final touches on their vehicle before they participate in the Winston Solar Car Challenge, an annual solar car competition for high school students.

This year’s nine-day, cross-country race begins July 23 at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and ends in Los Angeles.

Six team members will be on the road for eight days and have one layover for news conferences in El Paso.

Team member Austin Gwartney said it’s not a typical race in that the first one there is not the winner. Instead, the team that drives the most miles wins, he said, but if two teams drive the same amount of miles, the fastest team wins.

Students started design work in August but didn’t get construction materials until the fall. Financial and publicity director Cullen Hippler said the team essentially built the car, which weighs more than 800 pounds, from the ground up. Earlier this year, the car was was expected to drive about 60 mph, with the cruising speed about 40 mph.

Hippler said the whole process has “kind of been a whirlwind.”

“Building a car in (that amount of time) is not an easy thing, especially when we’re not professionals at it,” he said.

“It’s been a game of trial and error to see what works best for us, and what’s going to be the most efficient and safest on the road.”

Still, he and other team members said it’s been a learning experience.

“We’ve gotten a lot of design skills,” Hippler said. “We’ve gotten a lot of skills about building with different materials that we’re not used to, and building for reliability and efficiency.”

He said students also have learned other skills from presentations and visiting with the public.

“It’s not just the skill of building the car,” he said. “You’re getting other real-world skills, too,” he said.

Mack Stewart, 18, said he feels confident that the team will do well, and he’s learned that the process takes a lot of teamwork.

Scott Lowrie, 18, said he, too, is excited about the race and is confident in the project.

He said he’s learned what it’s like to be an engineer and build something from scratch.

“We never have what we need,” he said. “We’re always getting something new.”

The public is invited to help send off the Bullard Solar Car Team on July 20 at a Community and Media Day event.

The event, scheduled for 9 a.m. at Bullard High School, will feature guest speakers, including the engineer who developed the fiber carbon technology that’s being used in the vehicle, Hippler said.

Based on preliminary numbers, he expects between 500 to 1,000 attendees.

That day, Hippler said the team will head to Dallas, where it will check in with race officials.

In the meantime, fundraising efforts are continuing.

As of Tuesday, Hippler said they still were about $5,000 short in order to be in a comfortable position, where they have extra money in case something happens on the road.

“We’re just really appreciative of everyone’s support,” he said. “Without everyone behind us, there’s no way we could do anything. Because we’ve got a great support line, we feel comfortable going into it that we will be able to represent East Texas well.”