The Final Leg of the Race, Waco to Austin

The final leg of the race, from Waco to Austin, came much faster than anyone expected. Over the previous three race days the team had experienced being rear-ended, receiving help from Liberty Christian, breaking the speedometer, being passed by tractor trailers, and much more. What we had not experienced was running down our batteries without being able to adequately recharge them. By the time the team rolled into the impound lot the, thick clouds had settled over the area preventing charging. When the team pulled the car out to charge in the morning, the skies were still mostly cloudy. A call to a local news station informed us that the route would be mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms.

Mike driving the car

Mike driving the car

To make matter worse, the official results from the previous day showed twelve fewer miles than we had calculated (we mentioned this to our previous day’s judge and she said she would pass it on to her superiors). In such a close race, all of this was terrible news. Low batteries, minimal sun, fewer than expected miles, it was going to be a rough day. We needed to run all day to get the miles in, but it seemed like we would be lucky to make it to lunch.

The team determined that the only way to stay in the running was to trailer up every hill, slow down in the limited sunlight (increasing the time the car charges), and speed up for clouds (minimizing the time with no charging). Plan in place we set off with Ben Conser driving the Solar Car.

After only a half hour of driving we noticed that we were getting much more sunlight that the news station said we would. Somewhat confused, we called back. This time they told us that the thunderstorms would be cleared out of the area by early afternoon, but it would remain cloudy throughout the day. With this new information, we decided to maintain our speed in anticipation of the clouds that were sure to come.

After another fifteen minutes of partly cloudy skies, we knew the weather report was wrong and decided to speed up. After a driver change Michael Horbowy drove the car the rest of the way to lunch. The first two drivers drove the car between 15 and 35 mph depending on sunlight and hills.

Sean Kennedy was next up to drive, and it was time to start pushing the limits. Albert Emanuel Milani told Sean to drive the car harder than it had been driven all day. In fact, the team almost received a penalty for speeding when we were traveling 29 mph in a 30 mph zone. Pushing the car harder also meant trailering up fewer hills, a risk that had to be taken.

The final driver was Soham Bharne. Albert calculated the ideal amp draw to fully deplete the batteries precisely when our time elapsed. This would give us the maximum distance. Sure enough, the batteries were minutes away from dying as time expired and we completed our 95th mile for the day.

It was amazing. A day that seemed hopeless ended up being one of the best days with exceptionally efficient driving, driver changes, and trailering. The team looked amazing during the day’s race with everyone doing everything perfectly. Best of all, towards the end of the day we passed our closest rival, Greenville.

For the rest of the day the team was trying to figure out whether we placed fourth or fifth in our division. Either way we would receive a trophy, but the team had never finished below fourth place, and we did not want this to be the first year.

After a banquet catered by the Marriot, and a captain from each team sharing his/her experience with all of the racers, the results were announced. First were the results of the Open and Advanced Divisions, building the suspense as we awaited our final place. The race official then called out “Fifth place for the Classic Division… Devon Prep.” We had missed fourth by two miles.

There has never been a group of people so disappointed with winning a trophy. We couldn’t help but think that if it weren’t for the accident on the first day, the team would have placed in at least third, if not second. After putting on some smiles for pictures, most of the team decided to drown away our sorrows in the pool.

During this time, one of the sponsors casually mentioned to a head judge that he couldn’t believe our calculations were off by twelve miles from the day before. The judge said that he hadn’t heard of this possible error and quickly went over the calculations. As it turns out, we did go the extra twelve miles, and when added into our score, we placed third. When the team found out about the correction to the score it was ecstatic. Jumping, high-fiving, cheering quickly ensued.

If you check the Solar Car Challenge website, you will notice there are two teams in third place, Devon Prep and Greenville, and no fifth place. The commission decided that it would be unfair to take the trophies away from the other teams, so they bumped us up instead of pushing the other teams back.

All in all, the trip was absolutely fantastic. Every member and sponsor had a great time, and in the end we ended up in a higher place than last year. Three seniors will now be leaving the team and moving onto college: Michael Horbowy, Ben Conser, and Sean Kennedy. In addition, Mike was the last remaining member from the original team four years ago. Next year’s team will be completely different from the first, and possibly with a completely different car.

This is the last post of the 2014 race

Next Post Previous Post