As racing season approaches, there is another critical task that is added to our already busy schedule. Before every major race we run what we call a “mock race,” a multi-day event that we use to simulate race conditions so that every member of the team is able to practice their role. When racing in the American Solar Challenge, the team uses the official race route for mock race, but in preparation for the World Solar Challenge, there is no route in the US, so we must create it ourselves.
About a week ago I sat down with our crew chief Gerald Chang and a few other members of the team to plan our mock race route. With no guidelines, other than that it had to be roughtly 1000 miles, we opened Google Maps and began looking at where we could go. With a blank slate, lots of ideas were flowing: travel south through Indianapolis; west, through Illinois and into Iowa; or north and follow the coast of Michigan. With blistering temperatures at home in Ann Arbor, we decided that a cool lake breeze might not be too bad, and settled on a tour of the lower peninsula. With the route decided and mapped out, there is one final step before we set out with the solar car: route survey.
Taking a solar car out on a 1000 mile trip is not as easy as taking a family road trip. Since our goal is to travel the route as fast as possible, utilizing all the energy we have available, we need to know as much about the route as we can.
Early Wednesday morning, Gerald Chang, Jordan Feight and I arrived at the workspace to prepare for our whirlwind tour of the state. At 7 am we set off in a university van with multiple high power GPS units, 3 laptops, and food for a 1000 mile journey. Our goal was to collect as much data about the route as possible. Using the GPS we are able to record the elevation changes along the entire route, tag every speed limit, stoplight, and stop sign, and mark any confusing or blind intersections. Using our navigation GPS we are also able to mark out any points of interest: gas stations along the route (only for our caravan vehicles of course); schools, parks, campgrounds or parking lots where we can spend the night while racing; and places to serve as control stops.
On Wednesday we started out driving west along M-12, and were able to reach the lakeshore before noon. The remainder of the day was spent driving north along the coast of Lake Michigan, passing through the many little towns that are scattered on the coast, and catching glimpses of the water every now and then through a break in the trees. We logged a total of 559 miles, and were fortunate enough to be able to spend the night at my parents house, just a mile off the route in Elk Rapids.
Thursday morning we set out with only a few hours of northward driving before we would turn south and set our sights on Ann Arbor again. By 10 am we reached Mackinaw City, where we stopped for a few minutes to check out a possible control stop location at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge. Back on the road we followed US-23 along the Lake Huron coast, through more of rural Michigan than we knew existed, all the way down to the thumb and into Bay City. As our route approached completion, we strayed from the lake shore, cutting south and taking rural roads back into Ann Arbor.
We pulled back into the workspace a mere 35 hours after we left, but with copious amounts of data invaluable to our strategy division. Over the coming weeks they will sort through all of this data and analyze it to establish the best race strategy possible, which will be put into action when the car hits the road in July.
This post was written by Cole Witte, a mechanical engineer on race crew.