Formula Sun Solar Race Cars to Compete at COTA on July 8

Solar-powered race cars? Why not?

Mustafa Ozer, AFP

If you pitched the idea of a solar-powered race car to the average motorsport fan, they would laugh you out of the elevator, down the hall, through the doors, and into the gutter. Even Formula E cars don't make it the full race distance on one battery charge, why are we to believe something powered by solar panel and the hopes and dreams of engineering students can complete a single lap, let alone race for hours? Well, according to the race's organizers, American Solar Challenge, this is no mere test to see if these teams can complete a lap, it's a real race, and a competitive one at that.

The event is held annually, and the event of this and some past years has taken place at Circuit of the Americas, just outside Austin, TX. According to the track's blurb on the race, competitors hail from eighteen schools, spread across the USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The list of participating schools can be found at the foot of COTA's announcement. When the cross-country American Solar Challenge race is held, this "Formula Sun Grand Prix" serves as the qualifying event, one which teams must complete in order to be granted entry to the main race.

The cars themselves resemble an odd amalgamation of naval, aerospace, and green technology, with the fuselages designed to maximize surface area for solar panels, and minimize drag. Wheels are as small as teams can get away with, and to save time on pit stops, tires are run until the cords show. They carry a battery on board, from which, some power is drawn, but these cars try to creep along on the power available from the Texas sun as much as possible. The entire event is open to the public, with an open paddock, and runs from 8am to 5pm this Saturday.

If what is said about slow cars being more fun to drive fast than fast cars being forced to drive slow is true, then these cars may be amongst the most thrilling cars on the planet to drive at their limits, as funny as that may sound. That, or the most boring. You decide.