Iowa State's solar car rolls north on day three of the North American Solar Challenge

AMES, Iowa -- The most exciting thing to happen to Iowa State University's solar car team on the third day of the North American Solar Challenge was the appearance of a spider in the cockpit of their car, Sol Invictus. In other words, it was a good day -- no breakdowns, no flat tires, no drained batteries.

Sol Invictus started the day in Neosho, Mo., and ended it 286 miles up the road in Seneca, Kan. They traveled at between 35 and 45 mph all day, said Erin Kelly, an ISU chemical engineering major and Team PrISUm member from Rochester, Minn.

"We drove about 35 mph at the beginning of the day to continue charging the batteries. Then we went 45 mph later in the day," Kelly said.

Kelly said Sol Invictus' average speed is "middle of the road" for the 13 cars competing.

"Today we were a little conservative. We're still feeling out the car. It's nothing like our previous car," Kelly said. "But tomorrow we plan to push it a little more, depending on the weather."

Now that the car is working consistently, the team can focus more on strategy -- finding the best balance between driving speed, battery charge and incoming solar rays.

At the start of the third day, Iowa State was in 10th place, moving up from their day one start at 15th place. The field was reduced from 15 to 13 cars when two schools (Oregon State University and Durham University) failed to satisfy final qualification conditions. They will drive the race route as non-competitive entries.

On Wednesday, the route takes the solar cars through a checkpoint in Bellevue, Neb., and on to an overnight stop and rest day in Sioux Falls, S.D. That's where the student teams have been promised "free pizza and time to relax," Kelly said.

The race ends on July 22 in Calgary, Alberta.

North American Solar Challenge 2008 Route

Start Line Plano, Texas July 13
Checkpoint McAlester, Oklahoma July 13
Stage Stop Neosho, Missouri July 13-15
Checkpoint Topeka, Kansas July 15
Checkpoint Omaha, Nebraska July 15-16
Stage Stop Sioux Falls, South Dakota July 16-18
Checkpoint Fargo, North Dakota July 18-19
Stage Stop Winnipeg, Manitoba July 19-20
Checkpoint Brandon, Manitoba July 20
Checkpoint Regina, Saskatchewan July 20-21
Stage Stop Medicine Hat, Alberta July 21-22
Finish Line Calgary, Alberta July 22