Photo courtesy of Meera Nathan

In temperatures surpassing 100 degrees, Georgia Tech’s Solar Racing team braved the heat to compete against fourteen other teams in the annual Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) track race in Austin, Texas at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, consisting of road style closed courses. In this worldwide competition, teams’ solar vehicles are pushed to the limit in handling braking, curves, and accelerating. The FSGP track race is a three day event in which strategy, driver training, teamwork and, of course, a well-built vehicle are crucial for success.

FSGP originated from a larger event: the American Solar Challenge (ASC). The ASC is a 1200 to 1800 mile cross country road race across North America, and is held every other year during the summer. During the years that include an ASC race the FSGP only serves as a qualifier, yet still is considered quite an accomplishment to complete. After passing their “Scrutineering” inspections in order to satisfy the vehicle design regulations, which took about three days, the team was able to move on to the FSGP.

This year’s outcome for the GT Solar Racing team proved to be a significant improvement from their previous competition during the ASC year in 2014. “Teams need to complete 90 laps in one day or 60 laps each on two days in order to make the cut,” said Bharat Kathpalia, fourth year ME. “We did not make the cut due to logistical issues — the truck and trailer broke down on the way to Austin, so we had to leave all our spare parts behind.” Needless to say, this year the GT Solar Racing team came back with unwavering fervor.

Georgia Tech’s solar racing vehicle, the Endeavour, finished about 100 miles around the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, completing ten laps on day one, five on day two and thirteen on day three. “We shattered all of Georgia Tech’s records with our twenty-seven laps,” Kathpalia said.

However, with most successes there are hurdles to overcome. Despite surpassing their personal goals, the Solar Racing team faced numerous challenges along the way. “We were working with a car made out of older parts.  In addition, Austin is very hot this time of year, which caused a lot of the car’s parts to overheat,” Kathpalia said. “It was a challenge to keep our drivers safe while also making sure the car was running as efficiently as possible.”

Some of their struggles, however, resulted in improved performance. “On the first day of racing, we had to remove one of the battery modules as it was leaking,” Kathpalia said. We ended up discharging it later in the day; however, removing that module ended up improving our car’s performance.”

GT Solar Racing is now working on a new car, SR-2, whose frame is already welded in the shop. “The ‘SR2’ will be two-thirds the weight of the Endeavour, will have a third of the drag, and almost 50% more torque,” Kathpalia said. The team will be competing at the FSGP track race next year, and hopes to move onto the American Solar Challenge soon after. “We’re in a much better place logistically and mentally. Endeavour is a 4 year old car that we inherited, so we’ve had to spend 4 years fixing all the issues and learning its systems,” Kathpalia said. “With SR-2 we are aiming for at least a top 5 spot in the FSGP and qualifying for ASC next year.”

After getting 10% of the incoming freshman class to sign up for the team during FASET, Georgia Tech Solar Racing has high hopes for the team’s future. Training and introductory projects for new members begin this weekend.

More information on Tech’s solar racing team can be found at www.gtsolarracing.com.