Principia’s solar car team took second place in the 2022 American Solar Challenge this summer, beating nationally recognized engineering teams from large universities such as the University of Kentucky, the University of Illinois, and the University of California, Berkeley.
Principia's RA XI solar car competed in the single-occupancy vehicle category during the nearly 2,000-mile overland race from Independence, Missouri, to Twin Falls, Idaho, on July 9–16.
Principia got a strong start by taking first place in the Formula Sun Grand Prix qualifying race for the first time since 2003 at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas, completing 299 laps (747.5 miles) over the three-day event. The Formula Sun Grand Prix includes an intense “scrutineering” component of competition where solar car entries can lose points (penalty laps) for small things like not having bright enough taillights or not braking to a stop quickly enough on wet pavement.
The American Solar Challenge is a combination of racing quickly and avoiding penalties for straying from the path or failing to follow the rules of the road. At the end of each of the three stages of the race, teams can complete additional miles, called loop miles, to increase their scores. Principia concluded Stage 1 of 3 with a promising first place finish, completing 363.5 base miles, 126 additional loop miles, and averaging a speed of 34.9 miles per hour.
The race was not without challenges, and modifications needed to be made along the way to support the car. During the race, the Principia team worked to repair a damaged back row of solar panels overnight. The challenges that occurred required the team to think quickly and overcome adversity. Chris Strong, a recent graduate and one of Principia’s two drivers, said “Adaptability is a much-needed skill on solar races, so having a group of students this year who could face an issue and fix it without a hitch was fantastic.” Principia maintained a reliable car throughout the race, experiencing only a minor break when a flat tire occurred on the fourth day of the race.
Flexibility was also key for the team during the race. Kimanii Ogilvie, a senior at Principia, worked as the graphic design and media intern for the solar car team. However, he took on other jobs as needs became apparent. “As time went on,” says Ogilvie, “I found myself filling in the gaps that needed to be filled, from helping the mechanical engineers to passing water to my teammates at checkpoints.” He credits their success to the teamwork on display even as they worked long hours problem-solving together on the road to Idaho.
Principia finished the race in second, a step higher on the podium than last year and bested only by the team from MIT. Principia finished with 476.8 additional loop miles completed and an average speed of 35.2 miles per hour.