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July 23, 2013

Grosse Pointe South solar car hits the road

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

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Grosse Pointe South solar car hits the road
The solar car team checks out their vehicle on the front lawn of Grosse Pointe South earlier this month. The car left from Texas and will be part of the Dell Winston Solar Car Challenge this month.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Grosse Pointe South is taking on a challenge that no other school in Michigan has tackled — traveling across America’s Southwest with a student-designed and constructed solar car.

While the car left for Texas July 18, the Dell Winston Solar Car Challenge was scheduled to get underway July 23, after press time. The team, which is calling themselves the GPS Sun Devils, was planning on tweeting real-time race updates. Teams will travel 884 miles through multiple cities and end eight days later in Los Angeles.

“This race is limited to high school teams and has had participants from as far away as India in the past. This is the only race of its kind in the nation for high school teams,” District community relations specialist, Rebecca Fannon, stated in an email.

“This is important for the school district in that the GPS Solar Car Team further develops the district’s potential to offer more (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) oriented programs in the high schools,” the email stated.

It’s a big deal for South students who put in a great deal of time and effort using their science and technology skills to build the solar car and get it ready to participate in the big event.

“The students are thrilled about the competition,” South physics teacher and solar car advisor Scott Brunner said in an email. “Building has been intense, with many long sessions going late into the night.

On the afternoon of July 22, the team tweeted “packed and ready to race” with a picture of a moving truck with a sticker that states “Caution Solar Car Ahead.” 

According to the race’s website, the program launched in 1993 “to motivate students in science and engineering and to increase alternative- energy awareness.”

Approximately 40 students took part in the project in one way or another, but there were about 12 students who took an active role in the build. Other components involved fundraising and design.

“That took most of the school year,” Brunner said. “We are funded completely by donations and we had to raise enough to buy our car parts and get the car to and from Texas/Los Angeles.”

The funds raised to date haven’t been quite enough to meet the costs, so they are still collecting donations, which are tax deductible and can be made through www.gpsolarcar.com.

When designing the car, students looked to experts for some guidance.

“Design was done by students after much research, including meetings with engineers from Ford and Wayne State University’s EcoCar team, as well as many other experts in fields related to the car,” Brunner said.

Besides Brunner, Kyle Watson, adjunct professor from the College for Creative Studies, was the other advisor that helped students with the build.

“He taught students how to work with metal, including cutting, grinding, bending, welding, drilling, tapping, etc.” Brunner said. “Kyle’s experience and teaching was key to students learning to create the car and how to adjust design of the cromoly steel frame and its many attached mechanical components — suspension, hubs, steering, mechanical controls, brakes, etc.”

Then, Brunner guided students through some of the electrical components of the build.

The vehicle needed a variety of components that regular street vehicles have, including headlights, a horn, batteries, a cooling system and more.

Gearing up for the challenge also entailed making sure the vehicle met many safety and performance requirements, Brunner said. 

To learn more about South’s solar car project and for a link to the Twitter feed, visit www.gpsolarcar.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.