A solar power car sits in Mary Frame Park Friday morning during one of the stops of the Hunt Winston Solar Car Challenge. Drivers are scheduled to arrive in Boulder, Colo., today after eight days of travel from Dallas. Daily Leader photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Rand McNally lists the distance from Dallas to Boulder, Colo., as 900 miles, a distance that for most motorists can be traveled in the course of less than two days.
It takes a little longer for a group of students from across the country using a new spin on a traditional mode of travel – a solar car.
Twelve high school students involved in the Hunt Winston Solar Car Challenge are scheduled to arrive in Boulder today after eight days of traveling from Dallas. The group made a stop Friday morning in Liberal as part of the route to Colorado.
Daniel Sandt, assistant race director for the Hunt Winston Solar Car Challenge, said while the event is a competition, he would not qualify it as a race.
“We’re seeing who can drive the most miles between those two cities,” he said regarding Dallas and Boulder. “All the cars are built by high school students. They’ve been working on them for the last year. This is a culmination of all their hard work.”
Sandt said the vehicles students are using are highly experimental.
“They all had to get experimental vehicle licenses,” he said. “These are each custom built cars that the students had to design from scratch. They had to go out and buy all the materials and fabricate every piece themselves.”
Sandt said youth in the challenge are from all over the country.
“We have teams from New York, Florida, California, Colorado, Texas, Mississippi,” he said. “There’s a school called the Winston School in Dallas that is the host of the event. It’s actually the only high school level solar car race in the entire world.”
Sandt said while solar cars involve some similar concepts which people tend to work from, every car is unique in design.
“None of them are templates,” he said.
Sandt said the cars are designed with minimum safety and maximum power standards.
“They’re not allowed to have more than a certain square meter area in solar cells or more than a certain amount of batteries,” he said. “Other than that, they’re pretty free to design the cars as they want.”
The first Hunt Winston Solar Car Challenge took place in 1995, and it has taken place every since.
“Our particular race this year on June 18 in Dallas at the Texas Motor Speedway,” Sandt said.
According to the challenge’s Web site, the event traditionally takes off from a point in Texas. The destination reached varies from year to year.
Sandt said the speed at which a solar car drives depends on the model.
“The slower cars will drive 15 to 20 miles an hour,” he said. “The fastest ones can hold just about 60 miles an hour going down the highway.”
Sandt said those numbers improve every year.
“If you go back and look at our records from about 10 years ago, we’d have cars that would go anywhere from 8 to 35 miles an hour,” he said. “Now, we’re up to a range of 15 to 60 miles an hour. We’re slowly inching up as the solar technology advances and is able to produce more energy. The cars are getting faster.”
Sandt said solar cars could be marketed to the public in the future, but before they are, they need to become a little more user friendly.
“Right now, they’re ultra high tech,” he said. “You really have to know about the car to be able to drive the car. Maybe the day will come in about five to 10 years when people will be able to buy an easier model.”
Sandt said solar cars likewise could contribute to the world of transportation.
“If people move into using electric cars and if they have solar cells attached to the roofs of the cars, the day will certainly come when the cars might not have to be plugged in anymore between usage,” he said.
Sandt explained how a solar car operates.
“Solar power takes the light from the sun and converts it straight into electricity,” he said. “Each car carries some batteries in it, so the electricity charges the batteries. Every car has an electric motor in it that pushes it down the road.”