Fourth place finish gives PrISUm team future inspiration

Kaitlin Miner

The Anthelion, a solar car created by Iowa State’s PrISUm solar car team, finished fourth in the 2011 Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The PrISUm team competed from May 2 to May 6. Evan Stumpges, PrISUm project director and senior in mechanical engineering, didn’t mind attending the Formula Sun Grand Prix during Finals Week, though.

“The race officials even said they were sorry for putting it on Finals Week for a lot of schools, but it was such a great opportunity to get the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Stumpges said. “So, we were really happy to be there, and it was definitely worth the publicity and the name of the track to be doing it on Finals Week . . . . Hopefully, if they do it in the future, they can find a little better date for students.”

The team spent five days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway competing against ten teams from universities all over the U.S.

Stumpges explained that the first two days were for “scrutineering,” in which the officials inspected the cars to make sure they met race regulations.

“There’s a whole bunch of criteria that teams have to meet . . . and there’s usually always minor things that come up during scrutineering that you have to adapt,” Stumpges said.

The last three days of the competition were dedicated to actually driving the teams’ creations. Stumpges explained that officials usually allow two hours for the teams to charge their vehicles.

“For [charging], all of the teams basically take [their] solar ray off of the car and tilt them toward the sun and try and get as much power as you can through solar that way, and at 10 a.m. all the cars line up on the racetrack in the starting order,” Stumpges said. “And then, pretty much you race around the track as fast as you can, as many laps as you can, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

Despite several setbacks, such as the failure of its bearings during scrutineering and the fracture of its frame during the race, Anthelion finished fourth overall to end its two-year career. Every two years, a new car is built to compete in the American Solar Challenge, a cross country race, and the Formula Sun Grand Prix.

The PrISUm solar car team has already begun work on its car to compete in the 2012 American Solar Challenge and is using the lessons learned over the past two years with Anthelion.

“Right now we’re mainly just working on the body of the car and building the molds . . . the molds for the body are probably the single biggest process . . . and we’re really happy because we’re about a semester ahead of schedule on that process,” said Stumpges. “About 50 percent of building this car is building the body, and the rest of it is a [much] quicker process.”

Improvements are already being made to the new solar car.

“The 2010 American Solar Challenge helped us realize that our electronics need major work, so in the past year we’ve basically done a good bulk of that work, redesigning circuit boards, integrating things better and really taking a fundamental look at the schematic of the car and how we want things to work with the next car,” said Stumpges.

“This last race, the Formula Sun Grand Prix, was awesome in that we didn’t have any major electrical failures . . . but we did run into a number of mechanical failures . . . and we’ll make further modifications [to the new car] based on that.”

Work on perfecting next year’s solar car is underway, but the team itself has made large improvements.

The team is organized into mechanical, electrical and business divisions. Stumpges said the team underwent an “evolutionary process” to develop this structure.

“I’m really happy with where we are in terms of team structure and team membership,” Stumpges said. “We have a [much] better, varied structure of the team . . . we’ve got members from freshmen to graduates, and a pretty even breakdown of the electrical and mechanical team and a good working relationship between a lot of members who are here because this is their group of friends . . . and this is what they enjoy doing.”

Emmanuel Agba, team adviser and senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, also noticed the team’s growth.

“I was impressed by how excited they are [for next year’s solar car] and I see a lot of fire in their eyes about what they think they can do differently,” Agba said.

Agba said he sees four main areas in which the team could improve: the battery pack, frame design, suspension design and racing strategy. Racing strategy, according to Agba, encompasses everything from improving the time on tire changes to driving training.

“This is an entirely student project . . . I want them to learn, I want it to be their project, their pride and I want it to be a learning experience for them, so most of the time I hang around and just ask questions . . . and see how they respond to that,” said Agba.

One of the ways in which the team is trying to improve the learning experience of this student project is by increasing the scope of students involved.

“We try to have students spaced out,” Agba said. “We try to have freshman, sophomore and senior students [working together], so that when those students are leaving, you have a new set of freshmen so the knowledge that they get can translate across the organization.”

Not only has Agba encouraged the students to learn on their own, but he has encouraged them to learn from the experiences they gained at Formula Sun Grand Prix.

“The other thing that we’ve worked on is continuous improvement . . . We’re not just starting fresh — we have to build off the knowledge we have,” Agba said. “We have to learn from our mistakes and we go back and use that, which is not really a bad thing because they are students. They are building this car, and if they don’t make mistakes they’re not going to learn.”