1990 Michigan Solar Car Team – The Beginning of a Legacy
This post was written by Sunrunner team member Paula Finnegan Jones
General Motors solar powered car – “Sunraycer” – had just won the Austrailian World Solar Challenge in 1987, and shortly after GM had organized the Sunrayce USA to be held in the summer of 1990.
Bill Kaliardos – I’m going to call him the Grandfather of the Michigan Solar Car Team – spearheaded the proposal writing to General Motors for our team. In the summer of 1989, Michigan was selected as one of 36 North American Universities to participate in this Florida to Michigan, Tour de France style, 10 day race.
I joined the Michigan Solar Car Team in the fall of 1989. It sounded intriguing. I soon became one of the eight design team leaders for the subcomponents of the car. It was challenging and overwhelming at times, treading unknown waters. And the pace was unrelenting: In the fall that year we unveiled our one-quarter scale model, and when school was out that early summer, we unveiled Sunrunner.
We spent the early summer of 1990 testing the car at Michigan International Speedway in preparation of the race. I’m not sure how many hours we logged, but I’m certain that the fact that we were the only team that finished every leg of the Sunrayce was largely due to the fact that the car was put through its paces prior to the race.
Overall, the Michigan Solar Car experience was one of the most memorable in my life, and I feel it has impacted both my personal life and professional career. Yes, I had the opportunity to learn abut how to design, build and test a car from the ground-up. I learned about energy use, efficiency, and strategy. And yes, I had the opportunity to drive the solar car across both the U.S. and the Australian Outback.
However, my biggest takeaway was the team experience, and the focused, hard-working, unselfish group of students that made this happen. In a way, I was fortunate to be on the first team, and not have the expectations or experience of a team before us. We were a group of self-motivated individuals with a variety of talents who were working together for a single, simple goal: to win a race!
And we did. Our Sunrunner won the GM Sunrayce of 1990, and went on to place 3rd in the 1990 World Solar Challenge.
Even today, I hold this team experience as a standard of how to work together in any endeavor as a model to achieve success. And the belief and feeling that anything is possible with a little smarts, dedication, and hard work is an invaluable lesson I learned early in life.
I have moved around a bit since I graduated, but am back in the Detroit area now. I am fortunate to remain close to many of my Solar Car teammates, and call many of them my closest friends. And I am also fortunate to be able to visit the Henry Ford Museum from time to time with my daughters and sneak a peek at Sunrunner on display there!
Good luck to the new team – I always enjoy cheering you on. Go Blue!