Race Day 3: The Race Heats Up!

Featured, Texas / Sunday, August 8th, 2021

Day 3 of racing threw many challenges at the team. The team arrived at the Texas Motor Speedway at opening time (6am) in order to have the most possible time to charge the panels before racing. Shortly after moving the car out of the garage and set up to charge, we were approached by a race official who notified us of a 5-lap penalty we received from day 2 of racing. We were told that the penalty was a result of exiting the track 13 seconds late at the end of the race day 2, which prevented our team from fulfilling the entire 30-minute lunch/rest break that all advanced division teams are required to take each day, since we had planned to use the last 30 minutes of the race as our break.

The team did not believe that this was a fair penalty given the circumstances, so team members Maya Peña (11) and Joseph Nwizugbo (12) set to work writing a statement in protest of the penalty, which they would present to a panel of 7 judges later that day. The statement read as follows:

We are writing to protest a penalty made against the Raisbeck Aviation High School (RAHS) Green Energy Team which occurred on Tuesday, July 20th. The penalty incurred by our team was ruled a “failure to comply with the mandatory 30-minute lunch for advanced division teams.” 

The RAHS Green Energy Team was marked as passing the entrance gate line at 16:31:13 (as marked by race officials and reported to us by William Shih), thus causing us to exit the track thirteen seconds past our required finishing time. 

Coming around turn four, driver Teddie Blahous entered pit lane at 22kph, coasting and on track to cross the entrance gate line before 16:31:00, however when driving through pit lane, he was caught behind the Holy Solars (classic division, team three) whose car was moving excessively slow down the center of the pit lane. Teddie Blahous honked his horn in order to alert the Holy Solars’ driver that he intended to pass. Because the Holy Solars’ vehicle was driving in the center of the pit lane, as shown in the recorded livestream, Teddie Blahous was unable to complete a safe pass. The Holy Solars’ vehicle was moving excessively slowly down the center of the pit lane, without hazard lights on. After slowly driving down pit lane behind Holy Solars’ vehicle while continually honking to signal his intent to pass, The Holy Solars engaged their hazard lights, and Teddie was able to perform a safe pass. As a result of this delay, the RAHS Green Energy Team passed the entrance gate line thirteen seconds past the allotted finishing time (16:31:00).

In order for Teddie to complete a safe pass, the Holy Solars’ vehicle would need to pull to the left side of the pit lane, closest to the white wall, as stated in section 20.2 of the “2021 Solar Car Challenge Event Rules.” Rule 20.2 states that, “on a closed-track event, the faster team must signal their intention to pass by sounding their horn. The slower team must then give way by slowing down or pulling over to allow the faster team to pass. Safety is the primary consideration here.” Pit Lane rules specify that, “passing is allowed in the pit lane if there is a significantly slower car and the pass can be conducted within the maximum speed limit. This should be a rare situation where the slower car is moving very slowly towards the pit exit, and the faster solar car is completing the lap before exiting the track. In this scenario, the slower solar car shall drive next to the pit wall, and the faster solar car shall drive in the outer lane. A horn indication shall be used, similar to passing procedures on the track.” 

Although encountering slower vehicles is inevitable, all drivers, regardless of speed or division, must comply with event rules. In the “Nature of the Competition” page of the event rules, under “Goal of the Solar Car Challenge,” it is stated that, “The Solar Car Challenge Education Program teaches high school students how to plan, design, engineer, build, and safely drive a roadworthy solar car.” As a team, we strive to follow the Solar Car Challenge guiding principles, which have always prioritized safety over performance. In order to be in compliance with these guidelines, our driver, Teddie Blahous, chose to prioritize safety with a potential penalty over engaging in a reckless maneuver which is prohibited in the event rules.

In addition to the penalty setback, our mentor fell ill with heat stroke and a serious infection which landed him in the ED later that morning. Finally, to top it all off, our data and telemetry team spent the entire day planning our race strategy around a single set of data. Each time the driver passed by the condo where the telemetry team was set up, the driver would read off the battery voltage which the telemetry team would use to predict how high or low to set the cruise control in order to end the day at a pre-decided battery percentage.

Despite these challenges, the team completed the most laps of the day (186), and finished the day in second place with a total of 482 laps—8 laps behind the Iron Lions.

Despite these unfortunate setbacks, the team persevered and finished the day in second place with 482 laps, 8 laps behind Iron Lions in first place with 490 laps. Additionally, the team completed the most laps of the day (186 laps), with the Iron Lions completing 181 laps.

The team stayed at the track until 9PM using every minute we had available to charge the solar panels and check the wheels and brakes before heading home to our team VRBO, feeling hopeful and optimistic going forward into the final day of racing.

Driver Nigel Barnett (12) enters the racetrack at the beginning of day 3

Driver Nigel Barnett (12) turns onto the straightaway

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