The most important aspect of a solar car is its reliability. The second is strategy. In solar car racing, “strategy” is an umbrella term which simply refers to the process of determining a race plan for the car to maximize efficiency. Specifically, this means using data collected from the car to build a model of its performance, which is then used to form the plan. Since energy consumption varies with the speed of the vehicle, it is critical that the driver does not drive too fast, nor too slow. In a perfect world, the car will have completed the race at exactly 0% of usable energy. In a typical world, there will be inconsistencies which force the driver to deviate from the race plan, such as weather fluctuations. Having a flexible plan allows us to change certain variables when these uncertainties occur.
During our 2020-21 season, our team heavily emphasized strategy. We spent a lot of effort developing a telemetry system to collect data from our car. We tested our car at PACCAR technical center: an oval track which resembles the Texas Motor Speedway. Using an oval track provided us with consistent data of which we could base predictions off of. During the 2021 Solar Car Challenge, the strategy team used both real-time and accumulated data to develop a plan. Teddie Blahous (12) recounts his thoughts on strategy during the challenge, stating “The strategy in Texas was the brains behind our success. They were constantly monitoring data, and telling us (the drivers) what voltage to set the Cruise control too. All I had to do was drive, but the strategy team really had a grasp of the entire race, knowing everything that was going on, variables like weather, current speed, and what our battery voltage would be approximately at the end of each race day.”
The strategy team using real-time data to make predictions
Moving forward, we continue to emphasize strategy. Part of our onboarding process for new members involved completing homework problems in a solar car textbook, which involved solving equations related to energy consumption. These problems introduced our members to solar car strategy and the importance of it.