CHICAGO – As many as 35 race cars will leave Chicago July 15 in the first-ever attempt to travel America’s historic Route 66 without spending a penny on gasoline.
In a year that has seen unpredictable energy and gasoline prices, these drivers are betting that sunshine will take them all the way to Los Angeles, a feat that has never been tried in the 75-year history of the highway.
The cars are part of the American Solar Challenge, an educational sporting event in which university teams, companies and clubs from around the world compete to build and race solar-powered cars across the country.
“The American Solar Challenge demonstrates the potential of renewable energy,” said Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. “In the future, with the Department of Energy’s research efforts into promising technologies, renewable energy can contribute to our nation’s energy supplies.”
The race begins at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and follows what remains of Route 66 through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The 2,300-mile journey ends in Claremont, Calif., July 25.
“The race challenges young engineers and scientists to find new ways to solve energy and transportation problems. Participants get excellent practical education through building their own cars and completing the race,” said Dan Eberle, race director.
Gasoline is not a concern for race drivers. The cars are propelled by electricity that’s generated by sunlight. No external power source can be used to charge batteries. Instead the racers use solar, or photovoltaic, cells to convert sunlight into electricity.
Whatever the weather.
That means weather and energy management will play an important role in the race. The more sunlight available, the faster the cars will run and the more energy can be stored in their batteries. But in any weather, the teams must make strategic energy management decisions to maximize their sunlight “fuel.”
Typical aerodynamic designs for the one-person vehicles make them look more like spacecraft on the Star Wars movie set than conventional passenger vehicles. The cars typically are low, sleek and colorful, with solar cells covering much of the car body.
“It will be fascinating to see the solar cars pass by some of the old Route 66 icons,” said Mike Turrentine a member of the University of Rolla, Missouri race team, which won the 1999 SunRayce solar car race. “We’ll see firsthand how transportation technologies have changed in the last 50 years.”
Tracking the racers.
The American Solar Challenge race cars can be tracked on the Internet at www.formulasun.org/asc/tracking/index.html.com July 15-25 through use of a global positioning satellite system that will pinpoint the location of participating cars. Daily race results also will be posted at www.formulasun.org/asc. The car with the fastest cumulative time from Chicago to Claremont will win the challenge.