Iowa State solar race car passes inspections, gets set for cross-continental race

AMES, Iowa -- Sol Invictus, Iowa State University's solar race car, ran on sun power for the first time this morning.

And that has the students of Team PrISUm confident they'll be lining up for the start of the 2,400-mile North American Solar Challenge this weekend. The challenge will put 17 student-designed and student-built solar race cars on the road from Plano, Texas, to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They'll run July 13-22 with a checkpoint in Omaha, Neb., July 15-16 and a stage stop in Sioux Falls, S.D., July 16-18. The route between those cities takes the solar cars into western Iowa for about 30 miles north of Sioux City.

The Iowa State team has passed most of the race's technical inspections this week. But there's still an electrical problem to fix and some on-track tests to pass before it qualifies for the race. Even so, Sarah Kelly, Team PrISUm's project director and a senior mechanical engineering major from Rochester, Minn., said she thinks the team will "definitely" move forward and race.

She, after all, had just watched the car make a short run.

"It was pretty exciting," she said.

But there are plenty of challenges ahead. This morning the team was at the Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, Texas, working to fix an electrical problem that's triggering the car's battery protection system and causing the system to kill the motor. Then it's on to a series of dynamic tests, including getting through slalom and figure-eight courses and meeting turning radius and braking requirements. Then there's a 125-mile qualifying run on the race track.

Will the team get the car fixed and on track?

"We're working on it right now," Kelly said this morning. "We know exactly what the problem is. I'm confident that we'll be lining up on Sunday."