INSIDE IOWA STATE
May 18, 2001
Team PrISUm passes first test
by Skip Derra
It was a dry run for Iowa State's solar car team, Team PrISUm, both
literally and figuratively, last week. Dry run in that the solar car
students had a chance to test their car and themselves under actual race
conditions. And dry run in that the event, the Formula Sun in Topeka, Kan.,
took place over several bright sunny days an oddity in solar car
Team PrISUm went to Topeka with one goal to qualify for the larger
and much more demanding American Solar Challenge 2001. The ASC 2001 is a
Chicago-to-Los Angeles solar car race that will be held July 15-25.
2001 Team PrISUm members celebrate their entry into the American Solar
Challenge. Photo by Skip Derra.|
"Formula Sun lets us see how our team can respond to situations that
only come up in a race," said Nick Mohr, a senior in mechanical
engineering and director of Team PrISUm. "We learned more this week
about how we act as a team than in any other activity we have had to
The ASC 2001 will present the solar car team with several logistical
challenges, not to mention the fact that the race course will be very
ASC 2001 will be a 2,300-mile race to be covered in 11 days the
longest solar car race ever attempted. It will include a much wider range of
terrain to cross, from the hills of Missouri to the desert of New Mexico and
the mountains of California. It also will feature international teams, as
well as the North American universities that commonly competed in past
Sunrayce solar car races. Two years ago, the ISU team raced 1,340 miles over
nine days in Sunrayce '99. The Sunrayce races had specific starting and
finishing points each day. Lodging was simple. Rent a block of rooms at a
town closest to your daily finishing point.
ASC 2001 will be less structured. There are two specific ending points for
the teams (which could number as many as 60) Rolla, Mo., on day 2 and
Barstow, Calif., on day 10. In between, your home literally will be where
you park your solar car.
"This is going to be a very different race for us," Mohr said.
"We're trying to do twice as much with a lot fewer
Mohr wanted to see how the team would respond to working and living
together in the back of a semi-trailer for six days during Formula Sun. The
students liked the idea of having their own mobile dorm, a MASH-type
encampment that features loft beds in the back of an athletic department
semi-trailer. The amenities also included a 1,650 gallon water tank and a
makeshift water shed that specialized in ice-cold showers.
Mohr said the team saved a considerable amount of money in lodging while
remaining right next to its car and the track. The semi-trailer also will be
the home of the team as it rolls across the United States.
"We won't have tents to tear down and put up," Mohr said.
"We won't have to drive out of our way to get to a hotel in the middle
of the night. We have it all here and it will follow us wherever we
Team PrISUm director Nick Mohr interviews with a film crew from the Odyssey
cable channel during Formula Sun.
Photo by Skip Derra.|
Teamwork pays off
At Topeka, the car cruised through a series of engineering and safety
tests. The first day of actual road racing started out well enough. All
teams trying to qualify for ASC 2001 had to complete 125 miles (60 laps)
with an average speed of 25 miles per hour. About 40 laps in, the ISU car's
battery system started losing voltage despite the sunny day. After modifying
the battery system, the team had to start over the next day to try to
The car completed the qualifying 60 laps midway through the afternoon of
Team PrISUm won't know its starting position in ASC 2001 until a second
group of cars goes through qualifiers in early July. But to the team, and
especially to Mohr, Formula Sun was a success. He said he saw a group of
college students going about their business in a professional manner and
having fun. For example, Mike Dorman, a senior in computer engineering, set
up a satellite communications network so the team could check on weather
forecasts, retrieve files from their Ames offices and update their Web page
on the car's progress.
"We are hooked up to the satellite and getting weather information
before the weathermen," Mohr marveled. "Everybody is doing what
they are supposed to be doing. This is great!"
Team PrISUm members check the cars ailing battery system. Photo by Skip
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
Copyright © 1995-2001, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.