In their second year of participating, the Piney Woods Raycers, the Gilmer High School solar car team placed 10th in the Solar Car Challenge, a 4-day event at Texas Motor Speedway in Addison.
When the team raced in 2011, they overcame electrical problems and completed 275 laps to go 262.5 miles.
This year, they had the electrical problems solved, but new challenges appeared. While they finished tenth again, they only went 55 laps for 88.5 miles.
Both years, the teams were counted down as a result of having too large a turning ratio. As a result, the students spent their last day making sketches and photographing the designs of other teams, so they can return with an improved product next year.
In the final function, a banquet following the third day of racing, Nathan Pierce was inducted into the Order of the Solar Cell.
The award is presented to those extremely special people who believe in high school solar car racing, and the great students who make it happen. His instructor, Criss Bartley, is also a member of the order.
Upon her return to Gilmer, Mrs. Bartley not only detailed some of the problems, but she also expressed her great appreciation for the support they had received.
“The team faced many challenges at the Solar Car Challenge (hence the name of the race) while at Texas Motor Speedway, July 15 to 19, and met those challenges with plans for improvement,” Mrs. Bartley explained.
“Last year the challenges were electrical and this year they were mechanical,” she added.
“ It may sound like a cliché, but the main goal for this project is educational, so when the students asked why our car didn’t perform better, I simply told them to go look at other cars and see what other teams were doing.”
Team members includeWyatt LaGrone, Josh Morey, Jonathan Morey, Riley Blalock and Keith Goodin.
Team Captain Ally Digilormo and Pierce attended last year’s race.
Four of the six team members had never been to a race. Under their instructor’s guidance, they all took notes, took pictures, made drawings, and talked to other teams.
“I can assure you that these students have a much-clearer understanding of the electrical and mechanical aspects of solar car racing than they did before attending this event,” Mrs. Bartley declared.
“This event prides itself on being a friendly competition and friendly it is, with teams from all over the country coming together to help each other race their cars,” Mrs. Bartley reported. “Only one team did not make it on the track and that was the team from Atlanta, Ga., who came with their car still under construction.”
They left with a car closer to completion after almost every other team helped them in some way.
“This was the first time in my ten years of racing solar cars that a team didn’t race at all,” Mrs. Bartley said.
Gilmer High plans to field a team again next year, and they have already outlined some of the steps they need to take.
“First, we will spend time in the CAD (computer-assisted design) lab at the high school. After learning CAD and how to use the program, they will predict the effect of different designs,” she said.
“Next, I will be teaching them about gear ratios and how to know when the motor is performing at its peak efficiency,” Mrs. Bartley continued. “Next we will redesign the swing-arm rear suspension.”
After two years with a 4-wheel vehicle and failing to meet the turning ratio either year, the team wants to go to a single rear wheel.
The change will give them better access to the gears and brakes. It will also lighten the car.
These changes combined with learning the gear ratios and how to judge peak performance should all contribute to improving efficiency and performance.
In addition, they have some repairs to make on the rack and pinion steering and to the brake calipers, and will proceed from there.
Mrs. Bartley wanted to underscore her appreciation for the local businesses and individuals who supported this team financially. Their names are prominently displayed on the side of the car and will be remain for a year.
Next year is a cross-country race to Los Angeles. The cross country had been scheduled for 2012, until the high fuel cost increases in the spring.