CLAREMONT, CA—In the spirit of the Jamaican bobsled team, the Sunsetters, a solar race team from North Dakota State University (Fargo, ND), crossed the Southern California finish line first in the stock class of the American Solar Challenge.
The 10-day, 2,300-mile contest took the students from Chicago to Los Angeles along historic Route 66. It is the longest solar car race in the world.
Twenty teams participated in either the open or stock class of the race. Stock class vehicles are limited to conventional solar cells and lead acid batteries. Lead acid batteries are about one-fourth the cost of lithium-ion batteries. Conventional solar cells may cost as little as $4,000 per vehicle compared to over $125,000 for open class solar cells.
The winning North Dakota State vehicle, named Prairie Fire GT, was unique. It was the only solar racer powered by an electric motor built by a conventional electric motor manufacturer, Bodine Electric Co. (Chicago). All the other teams used electric motors specially built for solar racing, which cost as much as $17,000 each.
The Bodine electric motor is a high-torque, industrial servomotor, typically used in packaging machinery and medical equipment.
“The Bodine Electric e-TORQ motor helped us greatly in achieving our goal of building a cost-effective car. It also performed flawlessly, while other teams had numerous problems with their motors,” says Keith Richtman, leader and co-driver for the Sunsetters.