“This year, we want to win the World Solar Challenge,” says U-M Solar Car Team business director Julia Hawley. In the past twenty years, the U-M team has won five of nine biennial North American Solar Challenges—but it’s never finished higher than second in the world competition, a 3,000-kilometer race across Australia.
As many as 200 student volunteers have spent the last two years developing this year’s car. Called “Infinium”—they always look for a name containing the letters “UM”—it will be unveiled June 5 at the Henry Ford Museum. Until then, Hawley won’t say anything about such sensitive competitive technologies as the solar array and the battery. But she does point out how far solar technology has come since the U-M built its first racer in 1990. Hawley says the squad tested the 2007 car, “Continuum,” at Michigan International Speedway “and took it up to eighty-seven miles an hour. On two horsepower, which is about what we have, that’s pretty good.”