U-M returns to international solar car race for first time since 2019

After a four-year hiatus, the University of Michigan (U-M) Solar Car Team will bring a new solar car to Australia for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge on Oct. 22-29. The team will be racing with "Astrum," its first three-wheeled "bullet-style" vehicle, and is one of only two American teams to compete in this year's challenge.

Race Manager Will Jones says the opportunity to race this year feels "pretty special." He says the team’s four years away from the race is the longest the team has gone between competitions, resulting from the race’s cancellation in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Jones was appointed race manager, he says the team has brought back its original mission statement: "Earn the victory, and move the world."

"The team is quite competitive, and we’re excited to compete on the world stage," he says. "We’re building the next generation of leaders in engineering, business, [and] operation, as well as promoting the capabilities of solar vehicles." 

Jones says that he and the team paid special attention to many of the finer manufacturing details for Astrum, "leaving no stone unturned" when it came to both design and partnering with local companies like Ford Motor Company and Livonia-based Roush Performance.

"Every detail has been optimized as much as possible," Jones says. "We’ve been lucky to have such great partners, and we’ve tried to go above and beyond to get world-class materials and procedures to build the best car possible."

Outside of a race environment, Jones says it will still be a while before we see solar-powered cars on our daily commute.

"The tech is only going to get better and better. It's a likely reality for it to be an option to put solar on the roof of your [electric] car for a little bit of range boost each day," he says. "If you only drive 10 miles a day, you may not need to plug it in ever, which would be awesome."

Members of the team will start to head to Australia at the end of this month to continue to test Astrum before the official start of the race on Oct. 22. Over five days, teams will race nearly 2,000 miles from Darwin to Adelaide. This year, U-M’s team hopes to make history and take first place, which would be a first for U-M and the first time a US team has placed first in the challenge since 1987.

"This is a hard job, working on this, but it’s pretty special and I feel lucky to be a part of it," Jones says. "I’m just so excited to have the opportunity to show the world what U-M is capable of."

To learn more about the U-M Solar Car Team and Astrum, visit their website

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo courtesy of U-M.
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