Day 6 Race Blog

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.

Day 5 Race Blog

Diego Lewis - July 7th, 2017

Strap in ladies & gentlemen, grab some popcorn and your favorite beverage, get comfortable because this one is going to be a doozy.

Let’s start from the beginning.

We set our alarms for 5:15 AM this morning. This let us get to the track, set up our pit, and start charging our batteries at 7AM on the dot. The race officials lock up our battery box every night to ensure no teams are charging their batteries from the wall overnight to gain an unfair advantage. They return them to us at exactly 7AM and all teams immediately begin charging right up until race time (9 AM today and tomorrow). No problems here, we got some good charge in and we were feeling justifiably confident.

App State started in the 3rd position today, which is also no problem. Our drivers are very experienced and know how to navigate crowded situations. Things were running smoothly for the first half hour or so until, again, the electrical component behind the accelerator pedal became disconnected, meaning we could not change our speed. Driver Lindsay Rudisill was in the car when it came to a stop, and our rescue team immediately jumped into the rescue van and got to her as quickly as possible. I was told first hand that she did everything she could from within the cabin to get the pedal connected again, but to no avail.

Fortunately our reaction was swift and effective. Our rescue squad was able to get the pedal connected again for long enough to get us back to the garage. We then had to borrow a drill bit from another team and we spent 5-10 minutes drilling into the car. It is not generally a good thing when you have to drill directly into the car. I don’t think I can go into more detail while protecting important information, but a more permanent fix was applied and we were back on the road. The ordeal cost us 20 more minutes of track time but nevertheless, we were running hot and still on pace to take the lead or at least get in good position for it by the end of the day, even though we had dropped all the way to 5th place, the furthest we’ve ever been from the lead.

The rest of the race day went absolutely spectacular. Lindsay drove for almost 6 straight hours, clawing us back to 3rd place from 5th. We ran one full-service pit stop where we swapped drivers and put on a fresh set of tires. Cristian hopped in the car and got straight to it. He almost immediately got us into 2nd place by passing Poly Montreal and continued advancing on the leader, Team CalSol from UC Berkeley.

We went from 5th to 3rd over the course of a few hours and almost immediately up to 2nd. I’ve yet to see another car make that kind of progress in that short an amount of time. The pit stop I mentioned was undoubtedly the fastest and smoothest solar car pit stop I’ve ever seen. It was a true spectacle to behold; every piece fit seamlessly into place, everyone was exactly where they needed to be and moving at blinding speed. We did a full tire change and driver swap in ~3 minutes and 15 seconds. I can’t wait to see the footage, it was incredible.

So we finish Race Day 2 in 2nd place, 2 laps behind CalSol for the day, for a total of 4 laps behind CalSol (we were 2 laps behind them day 1 as well, the race spans all 3 days). This is a good place to be in, because by now it is clear (at least to us) that we have the best performing car, when we’re not experiencing unexpected pedal failures that keep forcing us off the track for frustrating amounts of time. Nevertheless, at this point we are more than still in this. We’re in podium positioning and continuing to gain on the leader. 

Now this is where things get really wild. Go ahead and get a refill, maybe some more snacks and comfy blankets. This is also why this post is delayed; I could not in good conscience publish this information without first running this by our omnipotent and omniscient (yes, really) leader Dan Blakeley before uploading. Solar Vehicle Teams are notorious for helping each other in every way we can, except for race strategy. You don’t talk about race strategy.

So every day, immediately after the end of race time at 5PM, a new race begins to get to charging as fast as possible until 8PM, when race regulations require us to lock our batteries up and hand them over to the officials.

Suddenly, things take a turn for the worst. Race officials began testing all the teams’ emergency kill switches once we’re all charging. When an official came to our car and flipped our switch, we immediately knew something was wrong. Upon restarting the car, one of the four MPPTs (the circuit boards that regulate the power collected by the solar panels) was not responding. This means we were charging at only 3/4 of the rate that we should have been.

Frantic phone calls, emails, and hair-pulling ensued. I personally almost overheated running back and forth from the garage fetching batteries, phones, and tools. It was absolute and total organized chaos.

Then we looked up.

With a 0% chance of rain on the radar, ominous clouds formed very suddenly in the distance, forming a V pattern which was sharply closing in on us. We could see a mile-wide column of water advancing toward us, and this shape of clouds meant we wouldn’t be able to watch the rain come toward us and gauge how long we had to charge, it would just suddenly start raining and we could not be charging when that happened. The cars internal components are exposed during morning and evening charging because we lift the array off of the car to angle it toward the sun.

So, on top of trying to isolate the problem with the MPPT while pleading with the race officials who flipped the switch, we now had to pack up everything in heavy winds with rain starting to fall. These same heavy winds almost picked up Univ. of Kentucky solar team’s array which was right behind ours. It was quite a close call, great reaction time on their part. I don’t want to think about what may have transpired had their array caught a harder gust of wind and come flying toward ours.

We make it back to the garage just as the torrential rain picks up outside. Our engineers immediately get back to work on trying to fix our barbecued MPPT. After a half hour of heavy rain, thunder, and lightning, the storm suddenly clears and race officials allow all teams to get back out and charge for one last hour. Unfortunately, we are so far deep into trying to fix our MPPT that this was not an option for us. The car was in pieces, we had people working on the MPPT, others reinforcing our accelerator pedal connection; and now we were supposed to get the car back out to charge. No amount of manpower would have helped at that point, it was a real mess. A good portion of the team stayed working in the garage until officials kicked us out at 10:30PM.

We are all delirious from exhaustion, heat, stress, and dehydration. And yet here we are, still grinding away at our specializations. None of us are compensated in any way for any of our work on the team, we are driving our minds and bodies into the ground for this car, and I’ve yet to hear a single complaint. We believe in ourselves, our team, and most importantly, in Dan’s vision of what we can accomplish. I’m going to go ahead and cut this off here, I’ve got to go to bed.

I’d like to give a HUUUGE shout out to CalSol - UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team, the team we are currently 2nd behind, for giving us their only spare MPPT in effort to help get us going again. They now have no spare MPPTs if this or anything MPPT related somehow happens to them, so we are extremely thankful. It's not a plug-and-play fix, programming and installing an MPPT is a very complex process, but every bit of help is huge at this stage. The sportsmanship they demonstrated today speaks volumes not only of the quality and fortitude of their team, but of the solar vehicle community as a whole.

Day 4 Race Blog

Diego Lewis - July 6th, 2017

Forgive me, this one will be shorter than the rest. We are all lacking sleep; we’ve got to wake up in 4 hours.

App State started the day off very strong, tightly holding on to our first place position and continually pulling ahead until...

On turn 8 of lap 17 a tension cable broke off of our accelerator. We had to tow the car all the way around the track back to the garage. Once we got there it was a simple fix, but the failure cost us 45 minutes of extremely valuable track time. This set us back to 4th place and 3-4 laps behind the leader.

Oh yeah, and during afternoon charging we fought strong winds from carrying our array away while keeping the pouring rain out of the exposed internals of the car. It may not have been fun but not all the other teams stayed out in the rain like we did, and we did get some quality charge time between clouds, giving us a slight edge in battery charge going into tomorrow. Still, we were not able to charge nearly as much as anticipated meaning we will have to drive a bit more conservatively than before.

The good news is, nobody got to charge as much as they wanted, so it’s not as if we’re at any disadvantage, and remember we did get more charge than any other team. We were the last team standing out in the rain & thunder before the race officials almost literally dragged us back to the garage. Something tells me no matter how bad the weather got, we would still be out there. That is just how Team Sunergy rolls.

We did not let this get us down. The resiliency of Team Sunergy is astounding. As soon as the pedal was fixed our driver Sam Biagioli was back on the track making consistent gains on ETS, UC Berkeley, and Polytech Montreal. Duvey "The Streetsweeper" Rudow swapped in for Sam for the second half of the day and continued with the steady yet undeniable gains on the leaders. We are FAR from out of the running, and already back on the podium. We have plenty of time to get back where we belong.

We finished our first day of racing in 3rd place with 70 laps, only 2 laps behind the current leader, UC Berkeley. Considering the circumstances presented to us, we are very happy with these results. We're looking forward to getting back out there bright and early at 9AM tomorrow!

Day 3 Race Blog

Diego Lewis - July 5th, 2017

The first thing we did this morning was take a tour of the track. The race officials allowed us 3 laps in our van, which we did our best to take full advantage of. Equipped with the best technology, we attached a GoPro to the hood of the van and a Samsung 360 degree camera to the roof. Using cutting-edge adhesion methods, we proceeded to tape the tripod for that camera to the van. As unconventional as this may seem, it ultimately provided us with excellent footage of the track which helped our drivers determine the optimal race lines. Perhaps after the race we can share how we determine our optimal race lines…

After the track tour, we focused on final refinements to the car’s: motor controller, suspension, tires & alignment, and of course, pit stop drills. Having been afforded the luxury of a whole day for final prep, we made use of this time by repeatedly going through the motions, in real-time, of tire changes and driver swaps. The goal of this is to smooth out as many of the kinks as possible and reduce our down-time, as pit stops for solar cars are not quite as glamorous as for example NASCAR or F1 pit stops; it’s a notably more complicated process.

What is probably my favorite thing about the attitude we have going into the race tomorrow is the absolute lack of complacency. Though we seem to be doing rather well so far, pole position doesn’t usually win races, and we all know it. Not once have I spotted even the slightest indication of ‘satisfaction’ or otherwise complacency with where we are. Everyone is constantly working to improve on their area of specialization with the car, be it pit stops, mechanical & electrical optimizations, or race strategy. I think if we find any success come race time, it will be largely attributable to that fact.

One last thing I’d like to touch on is that the people around me are easily the smartest people I know. The sheer amount of technical knowledge and practical experience packed into my teammates’ brains is truly incredible. I cannot wait to see where we all are in 10 years, I can guarantee it will be an impressive array of careers and accomplishments. My time with the team has proven to me that there is little that can’t be accomplished when a group of dedicated and hardworking individuals puts their heads together.

Day 2 Race Blog

Diego Lewis - July 4th, 2017

Our goal today was to continue carrying forward the momentum we built up and to try and complete all of ‘scrutineering’ inspections before the end of the day. Not only did we do that, we completely finished all inspections around noon, which is truly amazing considering it took us an entire extra day to get to this point last year.

Even more exciting than beating our own record is the fact that we were the first team to finish the process of all 18! What that means is that App State has secured pole position at the starting line on Thursday. This is huge for us! We are off to a great start, all we’ve got to do is keep doing what we’re doing and we’ll be in good shape. 

For those wondering why we seem to be doing so well so far, it can absolutely be summarized in one word: preparation. We have spent not only the whole school year preparing for this, but easily over 2000 hours this summer ensuring we’d be as close to race ready as possible when we got here.

Our dedication has certainly paid dividends. Last year at this time we were taking apart our motor. This year we are making minor adjustments to and tuning our setup. This is not something we’ve had time to do before. We are also doing our best to extend any help we can give to other teams who are struggling, because we want to see as many teams competing as possible.

We are looking forward to a slightly less stressful day tomorrow, making sure our drivers are in top shape for driving and comfortable with the current car setup. I’ve gotten word that significant optimization has been performed on the car, which should reduce our power draw while maintaining speed and allow us to accelerate more quickly when we need to. We’ve yet to prove this on the track but preliminary testing has shown positive results; we’ll see just how much of a difference it makes come race time on Thursday!

At the end of the day we got an amazing 360 degree fireworks show. The track’s turn 1 hill is the highest point in the area, so we could see all of the fireworks shows for miles in all directions. It was a truly spectacular show and a great way to end the day. We’re all now back at the hotel getting some much needed sleep, we’re set to wake up at 6AM tomorrow!

Day 1 Race Blog

Diego Lewis, July 3, 2017

Today was our first day of ‘scrutineering’, the extensive and lengthy process of ensuring our car is 100% compliant with all race rules and regulations. Our first two inspections were on our electrical systems and the battery protection system, which was a small disappointment. Those are generally the two most difficult categories to complete. In spite of that, we passed both with flying colors!

In fact, we were hoping to at least get halfway through the process today and we ended up with an unprecedented 7 out of 9 categories completed! This puts us in the lead as far as inspections go, and the starting lineup is decided based on the order in which teams complete scrutineering! We are extremely pleased with the rate at which we are getting through inspections. The only categories remaining are body & sizing, and the solar array.

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Apart from scrutineering, we had a great time meeting all of the other teams, talking to the race organizers, and in general enjoying the buzzing atmosphere of a solar race on a Formula 1 track! It’s truly an amazing experience to get to work in the same garages real F1 teams regularly work in and see the world-class facilities from the perspective of a competitor. 

At the end of the day we hosted an ‘ask me anything’ thread on reddit, where we gathered representatives from other teams and answered all kinds of questions from people all around the world. If you have any you’d like to add, we will still be answering as we can throughout the week! Link: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/6l35ma/iama_solar_car_race_teams_competing_in_the/

We have also taken over the App State official Instagram - @appstate - for the week, so check us out there! Our Facebook is also continually being updated with pictures and videos of what the team is up to!

Overall we are very happy with our performance today and we are confident in our ability to continue performing at this level going into tomorrow. Speaking of which, tomorrow we’ll be serenaded by the one and only Willie Nelson who’ll be performing a 4th of July concert at the Circuit of The Americas amphitheater, so we have that to look forward to. Let’s keep this hot streak going, and LET’S GO APPS!

Meet the Race Crew

 

Tomorrow, Appalachian State's Solar Vehicle Team will be sending 15 members to compete in the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix! Although this is the second time Team Sunergy will be racing in the FSGP, over half of the members will be attending their first solar vehicle competition. Here are the members making the trek to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. 

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Dan Blakeley

Races Attended: 2014 FSGP, 2015 FSGP, 2016 FSGP & ASC

Fun Fact: Has fallen out of 7 different airplanes and survived...all of them

Duvey Rudow

Races Attended: 2016 FSGP & ASC

Fun Fact: His dad cloned his mustache and gave it to him for his 18th birthday

Lindsay Rudisill

Races Attended: 2016 FSGP & ASC

Fun Fact: can drink an entire bottle of olive oil

Jake Barnes

Races Attended: 2016 FSGP & ASC

Fun Fact: Has once been appraised at a market value of 20 goat pelts

James Furr

Races Attended: 2016 FSGP & ASC

Fun Fact: Can do half a backflip

Sam Biagoli

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Cries when he hears the sound of church bells

Yash Mehta

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Held the record for longest fidget spin

 

Kali Smith

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Can burp in 7 languages

Diego Lewis

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Hopes to one day marry an amish woman

Brandon Schwartz

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Compulsively jumps over fire hydrants

Wyatt Bailey

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Wears the same pair of jeans everyday

Cristian Gulisano

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Hates the smell of cucumbers

Cody Waters

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Likes the sound of pickles snapping in half

Lucas Tax

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Once rode a emu while firing a crossbow

Austin Shaw

FIRST RACE!!!

Fun Fact: Wants to be a pirate on the great lakes