CUSTER COUNTY—Solar cars are headed this way! On a journey of more than 1,700 miles, teams participating in the American Solar Challenge (ASC) will drive from Omaha, Neb., to Bend, Oregon July 14-22. The collegiate competition is intended for students to design, build, and then race solar-powered electric vehicles. Teams qualify nationally and internationally and all attempt to soak up some sun as they compete.
Single and multi-occupant solar cars must qualify for the ASC via a three-day track-based qualifying event—the Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP). This year’s FSGP took place in Hastings. According to the ASC website, “a vehicle must complete 96 laps in one day or 143 laps in two consecutive days. Each driver must complete 24 laps to qualify for ASC.”
Strategies differ between the track-based event and the cross-country tour but for both events, teams must pass a series of technical inspections called scrutineering. ASC Event Director Gail Lueck said the track event is a great opportunity to make sure the cars are reliable. Out on the road, cars are driving with normal traffic and will be escorted.
“In all cases the teams are aiming to, you know, be as energy efficient as possible. On the track, they’re trying to complete the most number of laps that they can on solar power. On the road, they’re trying to complete the course in the overall shortest elapsed time,” Lueck said.
The vehicles will follow portions of the Oregon Trail via US highways, state roads, and other non-interstate routes with checkpoints in Grand Island, Gering, Casper, Wyoming, and more until the journey ends in Bend, Oregon on July 22.
Gail Lueck told KCNI/KBBN that as of Thursday morning, nine teams out of a registered 21 teams had qualified for the ASC and will be passing through Custer County and Broken Bow sometime late afternoon on Saturday. The solar teams and their escorts will likely be staggered as they make their way through town throughout Saturday afternoon.
Lueck encourages all of Central Nebraska to cheer on the solar car teams, which travel at an average speed of around 40 miles per hour.
“Definitely cheer on all the teams because especially starting out in Nebraska, they still have many more miles to travel and a lot can change on the 1,700+ miles out to Oregon!” Lueck said.
Emphasizing the importance of science, engineering, technology, and innovation, the American Solar Challenge (ASC) and Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) solar car racing events are organized by the Innovators Educational Foundation (IEF), which is a 501(c)3 non-profit staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers.