SolarCats burn bright at Texas Motor Speedway

One week, 200 teams, Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas: the national Solar Car Challenge. Over the summer, the SolarCats participated in a competition of the brightest student minds across the country put to the test to create the most efficient solar-powered car.

The team consisted of  Michael Benben, Stephen Thomas, Chen Lim, William Dean, Corey Kochman, Gabriel Brea, Justyn Byrne, Brandon Abin and Ian Sorensen. They designed a solar car that logged 265.5 miles in the seven days of driving, ranking tenth in the nation in their division, and winning second place rookie team.

“The focus of the competition was to build the most efficient solar-powered car…it was about who went the farthest, not who finished first,” senior Michael Benben said.

The SolarCats, with drivers Benben, Dean and Kochman, came up with a strategy for success. The strategy helped them accomplish an impressive feat for a novice team: tenth out of all teams in the nation, and second as far as rookie teams. The magic formula was to start small (just getting through the first day), and then after the dust settled, hammer out a plan of action to “Keep our amperage draw from our motors and batteries as low as possible,” Benben said. They often had to go slow, eventually working out to keep a constant speed of 20 mph for 2-3 hours, and for the last 4-5 hours slowly decreasing from that.

“Functional and beautiful was our motto as we built the car because we wanted it to be one of the best and look its best,” Benben said.

The SolarCats built a car to look both amazing and perform well, but that being said, they did run into issues. One problem they had was with a roll bar not being properly attached, and they “couldn’t have made it through the inspections without Coppel High School,” Dean said. They gave the SolarCats the tools and location to fix their car, where otherwise the SolarCats might not have been able to compete. Coppel was one team that really inspired the SolarCats, but they weren’t the only ones.

“[There were] so many good teams out there…grand teams [such as] Choctaw Central High school,” Dean said. The SolarCats had a great deal of teams to draw inspiration from, such as Coppel High School from Texas, Choctaw Central High School from Mississippi and Walnut from California. While the SolarCats were complimented on the neatness and organization of their car, they were able to come away with much inspiration in the form of design, function, and durability. So what do the SolarCats have in store for the near future?

“Our plans are to improve the classic division car to do better next year in competition, and also design and hopefully start building an electric solar car,” Benben said.

Dean also stated: “Solar Car Challenge helped me to see that there are bigger things than our school in the world, and, rather than focusing on ourselves, the Solarcats need to be out there in our community to give everyone a chance to experience this incredible event.”     

The team is going to revamp the classic division car in ways to improve performance such as removing weight, as well as design a possible electric solar car, all while adding more community involvement, and take it back to Dallas next summer with the hopes of improving on this experience.


Photos courtesy of Dr. Chin-tang Liu