With another race on the horizon, we thought it would be a good idea to look back at our roots and revive the original virtues of the team. Learning from the past is an undoubtedly practical thing to do, and it helps when a member from the first University of Michigan Solar Car team sends you a box packed with twenty year-old newspaper articles, magazines, newsletters, reports, and photographs.
Scott Sbihli, a computer engineering graduate of the class of 1994, generously donated these now historical and, of course, valuable materials to the team. Although there is undeniable beauty in all that he sent us, this time I would like to draw attention to one article about the 1990 team’s victory in Sunrayce USA since ASC is fast-approaching.
Before the American Solar Challenge (ASC) was coined as the current race’s name, there was the North American Solar Challenge (NASC), and briefly before NASC, the race happened to be called the American Solar Challenge as it is now, but it all began with the Sunrayce USA. The first Sunrayce took place in July 1990 starting at Disney World in Orlando, Florida and ending in Warren, Michigan with a total of 1,641 miles. The University of Michigan’s Sunrunner won first place and the chance to compete in Australia’s World Solar Challenge that coming November. But, the victory was no breeze.
Sunrunner was not initially the fastest in the race, but after three days, it led the pack and in the end finished nearly two hours ahead of its closest competitor. Durability and strategy were the difference makers. With only minor mechanical problems, Sunrunner was the only entry to actually complete the entire 1,641 mile course – other cars spent time riding on a flat-bed truck because of mechanical breakdowns or depleted solar storage batteries. The team’s meteorologists, having accessed national and local weather data on their computers, were always a step ahead. Representatives from General Motors, one of Sunrayce’s sponsors, were so impressed that they awarded Michigan “Best Strategy.” University President at the time, James J. Duderstadt, remarked, “For an engineer like me, this is the equivalent of making Phi Beta Kappa, winning the Rose Bowl and NCAA Basketball Championship all rolled into one. It exemplifies the Michigan spirit – the willingness to go all out and be the very best.”
The 1990 team finished in third place in WSC later that year and set the bar extremely high for all future teams. And each team has indeed risen to the challenge, succeeded, and provided successive generations with the knowledge and heart to continue making the University proud.
Thanks to Scott who sent us these wonderful materials. Information is from The University Record, “Days in the Sun,” July 30, 1990.