2014 Solar Car Challenge Blog

Devon Prep’s Solar Car Team, The Devon Panel, traveled to Texas for the 2014 Austin Energy Solar Car Challenge in late July. Team members Ben Conser and Sean Kennedy along with chaperone Mr. Scott Conser left on Tuesday evening, July 15, to drive the car to Fort Worth, Texas. Other team members and chaperones arrived in Texas for Check-in on Friday, July 18 and Scrutineering on Saturday and Sunday, July 19 & 20. The race began on Monday, July 21.

This year’s race was a hybrid closed-track/cross-country event, spending two days at the world famous Texas Motor Speedway, then heading out on the road from Fort Worth to Austin, Texas where the race concluded on Thursday, July 24.  On the Speedway the Team completed 142 laps, and on the open road they drove 402.6 miles, earning them Third Place overall among the 12 teams in the Classic Division.

This is the fourth time Devon’s team, the only Pennsylvania team to participate,  has competed in the Solar Car Challenge. In 2011 and 2012 the race took place on the Texas Motor Speedway. The Devon Panel came in fourth place in 2011 and second place in 2012. Last year the team took fourth place in the 884 mile open road race from Dallas to Los Angeles.

In addition to Ben, Sean and Mr. Conser, team members Mike Horbowy, Evan Hennessy, Soham Bharne, Albert Emanuel Milani, Alex Carandang, Nick Ippoliti, Justin Hennessy, David Haruch and Riley McCarthy, and chaperones Mr. David Haruch, Mr. Raj Bharne, and Mr. Nick Ippoliti will be in Texas for the race. Team members Russell  Emery and Kevin Delaney will not make the trip to Texas.

The team will be blogging throughout the week and during the race.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 – Race Day 4 – The Final Leg of the Race 

by Michael Horbowy ’14

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The final leg of the race, from Waco to Austin, came much faster than anyone expected. Over the previous three race days the team had experienced being rear-ended, receiving help from Liberty Christian, breaking the speedometer, being passed by tractor trailers, and much more. What we had not experienced was running down our batteries without being able to adequately recharge them. By the time the team rolled into the impound lot the, thick clouds had settled over the area preventing charging. When the team pulled the car out to charge in the morning, the skies were still mostly cloudy. A call to a local news station informed us that the route would be mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms.

To make matter worse, the official results from the previous day showed twelve fewer miles than we had calculated (we mentioned this to our previous day’s judge and she said she would pass it on to her superiors). In such a close race, all of this was terrible news. Low batteries, minimal sun, fewer than expected miles, it was going to be a rough day. We needed to run all day to get the miles in, but it seemed like we would be lucky to make it to lunch.

The team determined that the only way to stay in the running was to trailer up every hill, slow down in the limited sunlight (increasing the time the car charges), and speed up for clouds (minimizing the time with no charging). Plan in place we set off with Ben Conser driving the Solar Car.

After only a half hour of driving we noticed that we were getting much more sunlight that the news station said we would. Somewhat confused, we called back. This time they told us that the thunderstorms would be cleared out of the area by early afternoon, but it would remain cloudy throughout the day. With this new information, we decided to maintain our speed in anticipation of the clouds that were sure to come.

After another fifteen minutes of partly cloudy skies, we knew the weather report was wrong and decided to speed up. After a driver change Michael Horbowy drove the car the rest of the way to lunch. The first two drivers drove the car between 15 and 35 mph depending on sunlight and hills.

Sean Kennedy was next up to drive, and it was time to start pushing the limits. Albert Emanuel Milani told Sean to drive the car harder than it had been driven all day. In fact, the team almost received a penalty for speeding when we were traveling 29 mph in a 30 mph zone. Pushing the car harder also meant trailering up fewer hills, a risk that had to be taken.

The final driver was Soham Bharne. Albert calculated the ideal amp draw to fully deplete the batteries precisely when our time elapsed. This would give us the maximum distance. Sure enough, the batteries were minutes away from dying as time expired and we completed our 95th mile for the day.

It was amazing. A day that seemed hopeless ended up being one of the best days with exceptionally efficient driving, driver changes, and trailering. The team looked amazing during the day’s race with everyone doing everything perfectly. Best of all, towards the end of the day we passed our closest rival, Greenville.

For the rest of the day the team was trying to figure out whether we placed fourth or fifth in our division. Either way we would receive a trophy, but the team had never finished below fourth place, and we did not want this to be the first year.

After a banquet catered by the Marriot, and a captain from each team sharing his/her experience with all of the racers, the results were announced. First were the results of the Open and Advanced Divisions, building the suspense as we awaited our final place. The race official then called out “Fifth place for the Classic Division… Devon Prep.” We had missed fourth by two miles.

There has never been a group of people so disappointed with winning a trophy. We couldn’t help but think that if it weren’t for the accident on the first day, the team would have placed in at least third, if not second. After putting on some smiles for pictures, most of the team decided to drown away our sorrows in the pool.

During this time, one of the sponsors casually mentioned to a head judge that he couldn’t believe our calculations were off by twelve miles from the day before. The judge said that he hadn’t heard of this possible error and quickly went over the calculations. As it turns out, we did go the extra twelve miles, and when added into our score, we placed third. When the team found out about the correction to the score it was ecstatic. Jumping, high-fiving, cheering quickly ensued.

If you check the Solar Car Challenge website, you will notice there are two teams in third place, Devon Prep and Greenville, and no fifth place. The commission decided that it would be unfair to take the trophies away from the other teams, so they bumped us up instead of pushing the other teams back.

All in all, the trip was absolutely fantastic. Every member and sponsor had a great time, and in the end we ended up in a higher place than last year. Three seniors will now be leaving the team and moving onto college: Michael Horbowy, Ben Conser, and Sean Kennedy. In addition, Mike was the last remaining member from the original team four years ago. Next year’s team will be completely different from the first, and possibly with a completely different car.

Team Members: Sean Kennedy ’14, Evan Hennessy ’15, Justin Hennessy ’16, Riley McCarthy ’17, David Haruch ’17, Albert Emanuel Milani ’15, Nick Ippoliti ’15, Alex Carandang ’15 
Co-Captains: Ben Conser ’14, Michael Horbowy ’14, Soham Bharne ’15
Sponsors: Scott Conser, David Haruch, Andy Horbowy, Raj Bharne, Nick Ippoliti

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 – Race Day 3 -Open Road, Fort Worth to Waco, Texas

by Michael Horbowy ’14

3day8Day one of the road portion of the race began hazy and early at a high school in Fort Worth, TX. While the solar car was charging the team captains explained the plan for the day. Thanks to a late night scouting run revealing construction and hills on the beginning of the course, the captains decided to trailer for the first nine miles.

Speedometer still not repaired, Ben Conser had to drive the car based on electrical data from the telemetry systems, which collect and communicate data with Albert Emanuel Milani, our electrical expert and energy manager. The drivers thought this was a challenging task on the track, but on the road with bumps, hills, and semi’s traveling 75 mph it was even more difficult.

A highlight for the day occurred during Ben’s run. While cruising along the highway at 23 mph, two cars approached from the rear. The shoulder was too small to pull over and ride on, so the other cars had to wait to pass. They must have been in a real hurry because they illegally passed us in the center turning lane. Little did they know, an unmarked police car was driving on the other side of the road at that very moment. The officer turned around, switched on his lights and flew passed the team in hot pursuit. Two minutes later we legally passed the two locals who had been pulled over by the police officer. As we passed, the enraged women in the first car offered rather vulgar hand gestures to the team. The incident provided fantastic entertainment for the entire team and the race official in our chase vehicle.

After two hours of driving, and trailering up large hills, it was time for a driver change. Soham Bharne took the wheel and drove almost continuously for two hours as the terrain flattened. Sean Kennedy was the final driver of the pre-lunch run who drove for another two hours over a rough road. When we stopped at Hard Eight’s Texas style barbecue in Stephensville for lunch at 3:30, the car had attained about 75 miles.

After a delicious lunch, the team trailered to the drop point 20 miles away where Michael Horbowy began his drive. It was already 4:30 and we could only drive until 5:05. In a race to cover as many miles as possible, Albert Emanuel had Mike drive at a slightly higher speed. During this short duration, the team trailered up one steep hill and raced along going 35 mph on down hills.

In total, the solar car drove roughly 90 miles today, and the gaps between second, third, fourth, and fifth places have closed considerably. It’s going to be a close race tomorrow as team’s barrel from Waco to Austin.

Monday, July 21, 2014 – Race Day 1, Texas Motor Speedway

by Michael Horbowy ’14

Finally, the day we have been so anxiously waiting and working for, the first day of the race arrived. The team finished charging the car and made final preparations for the start of the race. There was a slight issue with a battery connection in the main system, but we had a spare battery connector and were able to fix it in time.

​The race began at nine o’clock sharp with one car being released onto the track every minute. As team number eleven, the solar car entered the track at 9:10 with Ben Conser at the wheel. By this time, the mornings’ overcast was starting to break up and we decided to cruise at 18 mph as we familiarized ourselves with the track and racing conditions.

​The team and the car were performing well until Sol Tide was rear-ended by CCHS. Ben was uninjured and completed the lap as he pulled into Pit Lane where the other two team captains inspected the car. They immediately found that the tie rod holding the rear brake to the chassis, preventing the brake from spinning, was sheered in the accident. As a result, the brake spun freely ripping the brake line.

​The tie rod is very unique and is almost impossible to replace without fabricating a new one. Clearly, there was no time to make a new one. In our moment of desperation, a Liberty Christian sponsor led the team to a drag racing fabricator who could sleeve-weld the tie rod. An aluminum sleeve would be placed over the sheer and welded to both portions of the rod. As the tie rod was being welded, the rest of the team fixed and bled the brake line. Once the tie rod was returned, it was promptly bolted onto the car, and immediately tested by both the team and the judges. The car passed the test and could return to racing for the afternoon session. We received the okay during the mandatory lunch break, which meant we had to wait another hour before getting back onto the track.

​Our first afternoon driver was Soham Bharne who drove for one and a half hours. During this time the team decided to run the car at 24 mph to make up lost time. The next driver was Sean Kennedy, who was instructed to drive at 25 mph after the pits calculated the ideal speed to complete as many laps as possible while preserving the batteries. The car completed 48 laps in the afternoon increasing our total to 55 laps for the day.

​After a delicious barbecue dinner provided by the event hosts, the captains discussed a strategy for day two. The team is confident for the upcoming days on both the track and road.

Sunday, July 20, 2014 – Scrutineering Day 2

by Michael Horbowy ’14

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Today marks the second day of scrutineering, in which we endeavoured to complete our last two trials, General and Electrical Inspection. After a Texas-sized breakfast of Texas-shaped waffles with Texas-style biscuits and gravy, we headed back to the Garage to fix Sol Tide to judge standards.

Due to a vision issue, meeting standards required unscrewing the whole solar panel array and reattaching everything, which absorbed our morning. After three hours, however, Sol Tide was cleared for the vision test, leaving us with one final hurdle: the Electrical Inspection.

After our barbecue lunch, we went and completed the wiring. In a tense minute, the judges pored over Sol Tide until they paused, and finally gave the OK. Sol Tide had passed the six trials of scrutineering! However, whilst Mary Ann was going down Electric Avenue, everyone’s favorite, and handsome, and photogenic, and intelligent blog writer was singled out among all to be interviewed by the Solar Car media gnomes, and it was awesome. Overjoyed we went and took a practice lap for tomorrow’s race, repeatedly practicing reloading and unloading in the Texan heat.

Our daily goal completed, we returned to our hotel to rest off the heat until the banquet, a tortilla-fest of introductions and powerpoint slideshows in celebration of the Solar Car Challenge. Upon return, we retired to our rooms and rested up in wait of the upcoming race tomorrow.

Saturday, July 19, 2014 – Scrutineering Day 1

by Evan Hennessy ’15

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Today marks the first day of scrutineering, where the cars are examined by judges and tested to meet certain requirements. We headed to the garage at Texas Motor Speedway and quickly set up our tools after an hour of idling in line, on Ozone Day I might add, kicking a grasshopper into a black widow spider’s web in the process. 

Our first test involved qualifying the drivers by doing a slalom around pions, a test of both driver competence and Mary Ann’s functionality. Also included was proving that the drivers could leave the lady and turn everything off in 15 seconds. Aside from one pion and a box of baking soda achieving lift-off on one run, everything went smoothly and all four drivers passed.

Our next test was the endurance lap, a test of both Mary Ann’s versatility to complete a lap, as well as the support crew’s reaction time. DON’T TOUCH THE WHITE WALL!!! We practiced both loading and unloading protocols in the pit lane after Rotten Hotdog finished a lap. The judges found our performance pleasurable and gave us the all-clear.

The third trial was the break test, where Mary Ann was tasked to accelerate to 20 mph and stop in 2 seconds. Although the first run missed the requirements, the second run earned us the confirmation that Sol Tide passed the Brake Test.

Altercations began with the General and Electrical Inspection, where certain criteria were not met, and the Purple Parade Float started to get pissy. An hour-long setback happened due to an unfortunate dislocation of the suspension. After an afternoon spent fine-tuning the wiring and fixing the suspensions, we left off in favor of completing the rest tomorrow. We’re expecting a bright and sunny second scrutineering day tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014 – Check-in Day

by Evan Hennessy ’15

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The Challenge Begins

In the wee hours of the morning, the very, very wee hours, the Devon Solar Car Team assembled at the Philly airport. Soon, once again, they began the annual flight to Texas, that annual chance to earn the absurdly large trophy.

When the team arrived in Dallas, mother  nature threw them another screwball. Like the desert rain in New Mexico the year before, Dallas was coated in a thick blanket of clouds with record low summer temperatures.

This, however, did not deter the team. They headed over to the Fort Worth Marriott, where the trailer was parked. The first order of business was to ensure that the tools and the lovely lady inside were all in order. When the door begrudgingly opened after several yanks, there she was: Mary Ann, the solar goddess.

Looking fine in her new skin, hmmm-mmm very fine, Mary Ann gave the team almost no trouble, save for some brake issues. BRAKES!!! OF COURSE IT’S ALWAYS THE BRAKES!!! To top it all off, we spent fifteen minutes suffering through “Rock Lobster” while working.  Anyhoozle, what can you do? With the car all in order, the team went to register for the event. With this registration we received 50 booklets full of information on all the teams, around 40 of which are just sitting on a counter serving their purpose as paperweights.

After registration, we met up with the Horbowys at Babe’s Chicken for a dinner filled with chicken, chicken fried steak and alternative hokey pokey. After dinner we returned to the Marriott to register our two latecomers as part of the team. The competition was much larger this year. The Classic Division alone has fourteen teams presently, including us. The challenge would be more difficult this year, but we are hopeful that we will win.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 – Travel Day 3

by Team Captain Ben Conser ’14

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The solar car arrived in Dallas today after the long haul from Atlanta. We were greeted in the morning by the sight of Atlanta traffic. From there we went to the state of Alabama. Shortly after entering Alabama, we saw a billboard saying, “anti-racist is code word for anti-white”. Needless to say, we hurried out of Alabama as fast as we could. We then tried to stop for some crawfish at a restaurant called “Mudbugs” in Mississippi. However, due to our stupidity, we showed up two hours before the restaurant opened, so we went to Wendy’s instead. We were kept busy the next few hours with news reports about the Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Gaza incidents. Our next stop was in West Monroe, Louisiana, where we stopped by Duck Commander, home of the show “Duck Dynasty”. After that quick stop, we continued to a craw daddy hole. Here we were finally able to get our crawdads, however they only came fried. We finished off the night driving four more hours with the help of Mr. Conser’s diverse playlist. This playlist consisted of everything from Dominick the Donkey to Cotton Eyed Joe. We pulled into our hotel around 11:00, ready for a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 – Travel Day 2

by Team Captain Ben Conser ’14

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An uneventful day on the road was a good day on the road. We left our hotel around 9:30 and didn’t look back. We left South Hill, Virginia and headed southwest towards Atlanta. Thank goodness the rain had stopped from the night before! Our lunch at Wink’s BBQ in Salisbury, North Carolina was much better than expected. Our sliced and chopped BBQ sandwiches were both equally delicious. We were also quite excited when we saw a giant peach shaped water tower in Gaffney, South Carolina. Then it was on to Duluth, Georgia where we met my Dad’s college roommate, Steve Hill, at his restaurant, Stony River Legendary Steaks, for dinner. We feasted like kings on shrimp, crabcakes, wedge salads, prime rib, tuna, and topped off by key lime pie. Mr. Hill was kind enough to open up his house to us for a goodnight’s sleep. It was a restful end to an uneventful day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 – Travel Day 1

by Team Captain Ben Conser ’14

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After many months of hard work, we packed up the car and hit the road. While most of the team will be flying into Texas later this week, the brave team of Scott Conser, Ben Conser, and Sean Kennedy was assembled to drive the car down to Texas. After a brief team meeting at the shop, we were on the road. Luckily for us, the rental company provided a brand new Ford F250 pickup truck, ensuring that the drive would consist of towing power, and lots of leg room. After a smooth start to the drive, Mother Nature called in a rainstorm to batter our newly beloved pickup. We were helped along by the energy of a Jack Links Squatch Stick. There was also an encounter with a schizophrenic drug addict outside of a Walmart that made our car reek of cheap perfume the rest of the evening. All in all, we arrived safely in South Hill, Virginia around 1:30 AM thanks to the skillful driving of Scott Conser (and company). One by one, we each fell asleep, preparing for the seven hour drive the next day to Atlanta.