Illinois State University's solar car team still has a mountain to climb to get ready for its qualifying competition in two weeks. Junior Cameron Knight says they built a completely new car this year to prepare for the 1,650 mile race. The ISU Team operates with a budget much smaller than most of its competitors who may plough hundreds of thousands of dollars into their entries. Knight says ISU does not have an engineering school and so has to compensate.
"We just keep things reliable and as simple as possible. They're all things we've seen in shops before, or on cars, or ATVs, dirt bikes, that kind of stuff. That's what keeps us competitive is just common sense engineering."
Knight says they focus on bare bones fixes to challenges.
"We're kind of famous for our emergency brake. Lots of teams will spend hours designing a nice elaborate system or whatever. We have a nice little bicycle brake on a spring with a cable just attached to a ratchet."
Knight says he has done most of the composite and body work on this year's solar car and it makes him appreciate how much work goes into commercial vehicles on the road to make them look good.
"I always wanted to be an automotive engineer. That's where I wanted to go and composites is going to be the future of cars. So jumping into it now is just a huge leap in my knowledge getting into that field. It's great. It's what I love to do"
The track trials and qualifying races will happen in two weeks in Monticello, New York. The qualifiers for the Solar Challenge will race across country after that and make one overnight stop in Normal July 18th, before the finish in St. Paul, Minnesota. More than 30 students across several majors at ISU build the Mercury IV.
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