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Solar car race in sight for UA students

By Thomas Stauffer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 31, 1998
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Aaron Wickenden
Arizona Daily Wildcat

(From left) Ron Grife, Colin O'Connor, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, teamed up with Ray Ramadorai, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, to create a feisty solar car named "The Mule." The car was constructed as a working model for a solar race car, which will be entered in next summer's 10-day Sunrayce competition.

Ray Ramadorai and his friends are saving money for a road trip next summer. They'll need about $80,000.

That's what it will cost for the group of UA engineering students to design, build and race a solar-powered car in Sunrayce '99, a 10-day race sponsored by General Motors Inc., Electronic Data Systems and the U.S. Department of Energy. The race begins June 20 in Washington, D.C., and finishes at Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla.

Ramadorai, a computer engineering senior, said the 10-man group known as Team Daedalus was formed about a year ago.

"We ditched class for a day and sat around talking about what we wanted to do with ourselves," Ramadorai said.

The project they came up with is no small task. Ramadorai said the team spends about half its time fund raising and the other half designing and building a car that will race on about the same amount of power it takes to run a hair dryer.

"This team of students really has their act together," said Dunbar Birnie, an engineering professor and one of two faculty advisers for the group. "They've done a terrific job."

In May, the team unveiled "The Mule," a 1.5-horsepower test car that runs at 20 mph on four bicycle wheels. Ramadorai said building the $3,500 test car accomplished three things.

"It taught us how to build the car, it solidified the team and it showed that we have the capability," he said.

The car they'll race in June will use an array of 800 solar cells, nickel-hydride batteries and an 11-horsepower motor to travel at speeds up to 75 mph.

The team has raised about $60,000 in cash, materials and software from corporate and private donors. Sponsors get advertising space on the solar car, trailer and the team's Web page. The team also has an "Adopt-A-Cell" program that allows individuals to purchase solar cells at $20 each, or 16 for $300.

Not many college teams that enter the race have to work as hard as Daedalus to raise funds.

"A lot of teams are fully funded by their schools," Ramadorai said.

The team will need about $20,000 more by January to take part in the race. Birnie said that $10,000 of that could come from the University of Arizona in mid-September by way of the Alumni Foundation and the College of Engineering.

Birnie said if the team can raise enough to make it to Sunrayce '99, it will be much easier for the next group of students who want to take part in the race.

"These guys are paving the way," he said. "What's incredible about them is that they are really dedicated to making this a self-perpetuating club that will go on long after they're gone."

Colin O'Connor, a team member and mechanical engineering senior, said that designing and building a car while fund raising has been a challenging but enjoyable experience.

"The task is pretty daunting," he said, "but it's fun to see things get done instead of just having a diploma hanging on the wall."

Ramadorai said Daedalus is an ASUA-recognized club open to any student, regardless of course of study.

"We've got a philosophy major on the team," he said. "We're just looking for intelligent people who want to work hard."

Ramadorai said the team's goals for the race are limited by time and resources, but that the members still have high hopes.

"We're a rookie team," Ramadorai said. "Our goals are to beat every other rookie and finish in the top 10."

Sunrayce is held every other year. Next year's race is expected to have more than 50 entries. A 150-mile qualifying race will pare the field down to 40 teams for the 1,200-mile event.

California State University-Los Angeles won the 1997 race, but Ramadorai picked two other schools as favorites for Sunrayce '99.

"I'm going to put my money on (University of) Michigan or MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)," he said.

Donations to Team Daedalus can be made by calling 626-5373 or keying into the Web site at www.solarcar.arizona.edu.

Thomas Stauffer can be reached via e-mail at Thomas.Stauffer@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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