Diego Lewis - July 8th, 2017
Finally, here we are. It’s the last day of racing and as exhausted as we are, even at 6AM the 15 passenger van is buzzing with excitement. It’s been an extremely tight race so far, and in spite of the unforeseeable problems we’ve continued to encounter, we are still holding on to our spot on the podium. We have come way too far to give it up.
When I left last night, our MPPT was still fried and I had no idea what to expect when we got back. As it turns out, with the help of UC Berkeley and Principia, we were able to get our full ability to charge back before morning charging began. There was no way to get back the hour of charging we lost yesterday afternoon, no matter how hard we plead with the officials, but adversity is becoming part of our day-to-day. This is nowhere near as bad as losing over an hour of track time due to a repeatedly failing screw in the accelerator assembly. We know our array, our batteries, and just exactly when the battery protection system will trip and turn the car off when we’re out of charge (more on this further down).
So we begin the day in 2nd place, and Lindsay immediately takes the lead. We hold on to this lead for around 17 laps again, this time with a suboptimal amount of charge which is truly a feat in itself. I was out on the track working one of the corners listening to Lindsay read out our battery pack voltage every lap and gritting my teeth as the number fluctuated.
Then disaster struck. On turn 11 with about 30 minutes of racing left, the right tire blew out. Sam told me first hand that he did everything he could to hold the car steady and prevent a spin out, which he did. Unfortunately his maneuvers landed him on the outside of the track, over the rumble pads, at literally the furthest possible point from the pit garages and with no communication. On top of that, the rear wheel was bent out of shape, rendering it completely unusable.
Our rescue squad sprinted to the rescue vans and they raced to get our car back on track. When they got there, they swapped the wheels in record time.
Then Missouri S&T drove by, and their entire array flew off of their car around 200-300 feet from where Sam had come to a stop. There was a 10 foot long array in the middle of the track, and their car was essentially totaled at that point. Our rescue squad reacted immediately and took the array off the track, preventing any further damage to other cars.
Eventually, CalSol takes the lead. Their car may not be as pretty as ours but man does it rip up the track. Upon leaving the pit on the first lap, they got stuck behind a broken down car. They ran one of the fastest laps of the event immediately after, from a stop, at 4:35. Our fastest was in the low 5s. I don’t know if we ever ran a true hot lap because of tire wear. Nevertheless their car could haul.
Forgive me, I don’t remember the exact progression of our positioning throughout the stage, but I don’t believe we dropped below 3rd today. Poly Montreal was having a strong final day and passed us in the first half of the day but we were running our own race, not watching the scoreboard and reacting.
Lindsay drove for 5 hours today, putting over 150 miles on the track before swapping out for the anchor driver, Sam Biagioli. In this time our horn failed, our communications began stuttering, and just little things you could not possibly plan for went wrong. Still, Lindsay held strong and kept us on the podium. I believe it was during the driver change around 2PM that Poly passed us, putting us in 3rd. Sam made quick work of getting back into second, but CalSol had built up a solid 4 or 5 lap lead by then. He had his work cut out for him, but this is what he’s been training for. After running continuous hot laps which put a lot of stress on the tires, he cut the lead to only 2 laps with an hour and a half left of racing. We were doing it, Apportion was surging to catch up to CalSol and for a while it looked like it was going to be a very close finish.
At this point, we could have just run conservatively and pretty much guaranteed our 2nd place spot, but that is not how we operate. We were here to race, no matter the circumstance. Sam continued running hot laps all the way through the end of the race.
With less than 5 minutes before the end of the race, the Florida Gators finally passed their inspections (yes, really) and the every team went nuts as they took their one and only lap around the track. It was truly a spectacular moment.
Here’s todays most ridiculous and astonishing moment, however, and I am still struggling to wrap my head around the impossibility of what happened here. Sam runs his last lap and continues past the finish line to go around once more to head to the pits. He had secured our 2nd place spot on the podium, and we were all ecstatic. Literally seconds from when he crossed the finish line, the battery protection system detects that we are out of usable charge, and shuts the car down.
What this means is that our race strategy planned and executed by Chris Tolbert and Dan Blakeley was literally as good as it possibly could have been. Any charge we have left after the race is wasted. We had calculated the effective range of our car, accounting for countless variables, with absurd precision. Ask any solar vehicle team if they can tell you how many more laps their car can go, and they will probably give you a rough estimate with a margin of error of 5-10 laps. Our guys did something that I still consider basically impossible.
Sam coasted to a stop on the first hill before turn 1. We were all drained of all life of that point (we still are) but the energy in the air kept us going. We congratulated all of the other teams, traded shirts with the Puerto Ricans (which were an awesome group of people by the way, the best garage neighbors we could ask for), and took our podium pictures.
After the race, all the teams headed to the UT Austin campus for the awards ceremony. To put it simply, we were showered with awards.
We somehow won the safety award under the watch of Cody Waters, our safety officer. This was because before the race, we had almost the entire team CPR certified thanks to Wyatt Bailey’s mother who came to the warehouse to certify us.
Lindsay defended her title of fastest egress, beating her own record with an impressive 4.06 seconds from fully buckled in a 5 point harness to out of the car.
We won the most powerful array, largely due to the countless hours electrical specialist Austin Shaw (also Jake Barnes and Sam Biagioli) put into making sure our array can extract every possible ounce of energy from the sun. Our team as a whole also takes extremely good care of array, never touching the cells with our hands and keeping it protected from the elements as best we can.
Kali Smith earned us the ISF award which is awarded to a team who steps above and beyond the competition and does what they can to move the sport as a whole forward, by organizing community Q&As on reddit.com and a potluck for any willing teams to participate in, and more. I don’t think there’s a single person who doesn’t know who Kali is at the race, and that is not said in vain. She has been an extremely valuable support asset for our team and the community as a whole in countless ways.
Finally, of course, we were presented with our 2nd place medal. Words can’t begin to describe the wave of emotions we all felt when our medal was presented. The other podium finishers did their team chant when they were announced, but believe me when I say that nothing compared to the response we got. We had the entire hall of 400+ people chanting APP… STATE… easily 10 or 15 times before it died down. It was, for me at least, the highlight of the entire trip. That was just an amazing display of Mountaineer spirit and a moment I will never forget.
After the awards ceremony we made an obligatory trip to In-N-Out, all relieved it was all finally over. App State, a liberal arts school with no engineering department had placed 2nd in a technology design and implementation race after months and months of preparation. Though we will all be taking a well deserved break after the race, we can’t wait to get back to work building our next car. I hope you’ve enjoyed these blogs, I did my best to include as much information as possible while keeping it interesting. It’s been a blast.