Electrical problems knock Team PrISUm out of Wednesday's solar racing

AMES, Iowa - Team PrISUm, after yet another night of repairs, was ready to leave for Wednesday's long run to Rolla, Mo.

It was day four of a difficult and frustrating American Solar Challenge. Electrical problems have slowed Iowa State's solar race team all week. But Anthelion - the team's car is named after a halo that sometimes appears opposite the sun - had run most of Tuesday without crippling electrical problems. So there was some hope the car could make some more miles.

Then team members discovered the car's brake lights didn't work. While they worked on the lights, a voltage spike took out the electrical system.

There wasn't much the team could do after that, said Pat Sanderson, a senior from Iowa City who's majoring in mechanical engineering and is the team's project director. So team members loaded the car in the trailer and drove to the race's next stage stop.

That means a significant time penalty and little hope the team can race to a better position. Team PrISUm remains 11th of the 13 teams remaining. The University of Michigan continues to lead the 1,100-mile race from Broken Arrow, Okla., to Naperville, Ill.

But Sanderson said the team is still doing its best to get a working and reliable car on the road. With some help from the University of Minnesota's team, he said Team PrISUm may have seen its last voltage spike.

"The University of Minnesota has been a big help," Sanderson said. "They've helped with lots of little random stuff and have helped by sending people over."

In return, Sanderson said the Minnesota team is hoping to do some solar-powered racing with its rival to the south.

On Thursday the teams race for Alton, Ill. Then it's off to Normal, Ill., and Saturday's final stage into Naperville.

Iowa State's team has, of course, learned a few lessons from its struggles.

"We are constantly forced to come up with creative solutions to problems on the fly to keep the car driving with very limited resources," Evan Stumpges, a junior from Pauma Valley, Calif. who's studying mechanical engineering, wrote on the team's race blog. "We are also learning valuable lessons for the next project about the importance of testing and optimizing the car before departing for a competition."