Solar cars traveling in a 1,700-mile cross-country trip will be cruising into Grand Island next week.
The Stuhr Museum will be the first checkpoint stop for participants after the race gets underway earlier in the day in Omaha on July 14.
The 2018 American Solar Challenge has collegiate racers traveling from Nebraska to Oregon in solar-powered vehicles they created. They will spend nine days on the road driving west along U.S. highways, state roads and secondary roads following portions of the Oregon Trail.
There are 24 teams that have registered for the race. That number will be whittled down through a qualifying process July 6-12 that includes vehicle inspections and the Formula Sun Grand Prix. The inspections and the track race will be held at Motorsport Park Hastings.
Once the field is set, racers will take off from the starting line in Omaha and make their way along the trail.
Participants will be arriving at Stuhr Museum for a 45-minute period where teams can switch drivers and get route updates. It is also during that time that the teams can interact with the public that have come to get a closer look at the vehicles.
The cars are expected to pull into the museum from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“One of the things that will be fun about this is there is no one way to a build a solar car. There will be lots of different kinds of cars and ones that will be approaching the problems of being just a solar car in a bunch of different ways. It will be pretty interesting to see,” said Mike Bockoven, director of marketing and public relations at the museum.
That day, food trucks will be on site to welcome visitors to the museum. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults and $8 for children. Members are admitted free.
Grand Island is just one stop along the way on the race that is broken into five phases.
Drivers will also be stopping in Gering and then cities in Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon before they reach the finish line in Bend, Oregon, on July 22.
The vehicles being driven are a mix of cars for one person or multiple occupants. All have been long-term projects for the teams.
“It’s typically a two-year design cycle,” said Event Director Gail Lueck.
Lueck said the challenge promotes multi-disciplinary learning as it requires students to problem solve and be innovative thinkers.
“This is a brain sport, as we like to call it,” she said.
Students experiment with alternative energy sources like solar and battery technology to build their vehicles. There is also a good amount of teamwork involved in the process and throughout the race.
“Really, a solar team is like building a small business because they are responsible not only for designing and building this experimental vehicle that there’s no clear instructions for, but they also have to do their own fundraising, they have to do their own logistics and they have to do their own PR,” she said.
The typical numbers of vehicles in the Solar Challenge are eight to 12, though there could be more this year because there are a higher number of teams registered in the competition than in the past, Lueck said. The competitors are from colleges and universities in America and across the world.
Registered teams include University of Michigan, University of Kentucky, MIT, University of Florida, UC–Berkeley, Iowa State, Western Sydney University, Illinois State University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Waterloo, University of Minnesota, Missouri S&T, Georgia Institute of Technology, Polytechnique Montréal, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, New Jersey Institute of Technology, St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, North Carolina State University, École de Technologie Supérieure, McMaster University, University of Bologna, Western Michigan University, Appalachian State and Alfaisal University.