Solar Eagle III: Daily Updates from Sunrayce 97



The Story of a Champion

Saturday, June 28, 1997 was a fateful day for Cal State L.A. A team of the University's engineering and technology students that had been sent to the Sunrayce 97 intercollegiate, nine day, 1,230-mile solar car race to test their brains and brawn against the nation's best and brightest stood at the race's finish line in Colorado Springs in a state of utter euphoria. Team Solar Eagle III had done what had only been imagined throughout the two years spent designing, constructing, and perfecting Cal State L.A.'s third solar-powered electric vehicle: they had outperformed, outdistanced, and totally outclassed nearly 40 of the most respected schools in North America, decisively winning Sunrayce 97. The Winner's Circle celebration, blanketed under a canopy of champagne and confetti, was the crowning moment for a team and a project that many believed from the beginning was destined for greatness.

The story of the Solar Eagle III's appearance at Sunrayce 97 is spiced with excitement, anticipation, and good old fashioned competition. Most team members admit to experiencing more than their share of butterflies during the race. This nervousness was in spite of the fact that the car improved its position every day, stayed in front once it took hold of first place, never broke down in nine days of competing, and effectively shattered the Sunrayce speed record in the process of winning. Still, when the car's canopy came off at competition's end and a jubilant, teary-eyed driver, team leader Roman Vasquez III, emerged, he confessed that he wasn't truly convinced that his team had won the race "until I turned that last corner and drove across the finish line."

It would be almost impossible to recreate the kind of drama that ensued along the race route. We figure the best we can do to preserve the experience for the benefit of others is to publish an abbreviated version of the daily updates that were recorded on this web site throughout the race.

Buckle your seatbelts... it's quite a ride!

Race Day One: Thursday, June 19
Indianapolis, IN to Terre Haute, IN (68 Miles)
Solar Eagle III is two minutes off the lead after day one

The first day of Sunrayce 97 is over, and Cal State L.A.'s Team Solar Eagle III is in fifth place. The team completed the 68-mile first leg of the intercollegiate solar car race in 1:38:05, crossing the Terre Haute finish line less than two minutes after the day's winner, University of Western Ontario.

The Solar Eagle III ran neck-and-neck with defending Sunrayce champion, MIT, for most of the distance to Terre Haute. The team is surmising that the motor used in the Solar Eagle III for today's race leg might have been the reason for the speed deficit. Team Solar Eagle III will decide on tomorrow's race strategy this afternoon, deciding whether or not to switch motors for day two tomorrow. Tomorrow's course--169 miles from Terre Haute to Godfrey, IL--features significantly flatter terrain, with less stop-and-go traffic.

Friday, June 20: Race Day Two
Terre Haute, IN to Godfrey, IL (169 Miles)
Solar Eagle III Moves Into Third Place

Team Solar Eagle III turned in an impressive performance on the second day of competition at Sunrayce 97, the intercollegiate solar car race from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs. Today's leg spanned 169 miles between Terre Haute, IN and Godfrey, IL.

Starting the day in fourth place, the Solar Eagle III passed Stanford University/U.C. Berkeley early and stayed hot on the tail of leaders George Washington University and defending Sunrayce champs, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For official day two Sunrayce results, visit.

The race started today with high clouds and partial sun, average to good racing conditions, according to team member and Cal State L.A. Dean of Engineering and Technology, Dr. Raymond Landis. "We got a little unlucky today," explains Dr. Landis. "We had to wait for a long freight train to pass by, and it delayed us three to five minutes. With the standings the way they are, that€s a big delay."

Student team members, Dylan Wakasa and Roman Vasquez, platooned as drivers, trading off at the race day mid-point. The car is reportedly running in excellent condition, and the same performance is expected for tomorrow's 165-mile leg to Fulton, MO.

Optimism is running high and the team is maintaining a positive outlook on the Solar Eagle III's current position. "The team's doing good, the car's running great," says professor of Mechanical Engineering and Solar Eagle III faculty advisor, Dick Roberto. "If we keep this up, we'll be in great shape."

Saturday, June 21: Race Day Three
Godfrey, IL to Fulton, MO (165 Miles)
Solar Eagle III in Second After Third Day

Sunrayce 97 speeds on and the Solar Eagle III continues to move up in the intercollegiate solar car competition. After three full days of racing, Cal State L.A.'s third Sunrayce entry has taken sole possession of second place.

The 165-mile leg to Fulton, MO, began in Godfrey, IL, under high clouds and partial sun. At the time the race began, the Solar Eagle III was in third place, approximately 9 minutes behind leader George Washington University. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) started the day in second. At day's end, the Solar Eagle III had moved into second, 11 minutes behind new leader MIT. George Washington University experienced mechanical difficulties and fell out of the top ten teams.

Mark Van Dalm, student team member responsible for forecasting the weather each day, "predicted the weather perfectly," according to Dr. Raymond Landis, Solar Eagle III advisor and Dean of Cal State L.A.'s School of Engineering and Technology. "Mark told us we'd have about 55 to 60 percent of the sun today and he was right on the money." Van Dalm has forecasted similar weather conditions for Sunday's leg from Fulton to Lee's Summit, MO.

"We're chasing MIT now," says Dr. Landis. "The team's spirits are high. We think we have a good chance to catch them."

Sunday, June 22: Race Day Four
Fulton, MO to Lee's Summit, MO (156 Miles)
A fast day, but Solar Eagle III pulls in fifth It was a day of record speed. The top five finishers in Day Four of Sunrayce 97 crossed the finish line within 10 minutes of each other. Cal State L.A.€s Solar Eagle III was the fifth of this group, averaging nearly 45 miles per hour. The fifth place finish didn't unseat Team Solar Eagle III from the second place berth it held at the beginning of the day, but reigning Sunrayce champs, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), kept their hold on first place and added 10 minutes to their lead over Cal State L.A. Team Solar Eagle III is now less than 20 minutes behind MIT.

Sunraycers got a lucky break for Day Four. The night before the 156-mile leg between Fulton and Lee's Summit, MO, a summer storm complete with thunder, lightning, and rain kicked up. The clouds began to part just in time for the starting gun this morning. Still, Team Solar Eagle III "began the day conservatively," says Landis. "The car was running beautifully, and we weren't sure how much power we might have to save for weather ahead." But the skies cleared completely, and drivers Dylan Wakasa and Roman Vasquez platooned for a fast pace and a quick finish.

Although tomorrow's rest day will give them chance to regroup, Team Solar Eagle III is anxious to get back on the road and etch away at MIT's lead. Inclement weather could be ahead for Day Five's 152-mile leg between Lee's Summit, MO, and Manhattan, KS. Stay tuned‡‡changes in weather have historically meant changes in Sunrayce standings.

Monday, June 23: Rest Day
Lee's Summit, MO
Solar Eagle III in Second At Sunrayce Midpoint

Cal State L.A.'s Solar Eagle III is in second place after four days of competing in Sunrayce 97, the intercollegiate solar car race. Approximately 17 minutes off the lead, the Solar Eagle III trails the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT.)

Today is the midpoint of Sunrayce 97 and the only rest day for the 36 competing teams. Tomorrow's 152-mile leg begins in Lee's Summit and finishes in Manhattan, KS.

Tuesday, June 24: Race Day Five
Lee's Summit, MO to Manhattan, KS (152 Miles)
Solar Eagle III Speeds Into First!

Day Five of Sunrayce 97 began in Lee's Summit, MO, with Cal State L.A.'s Team Solar Eagle III solidly in second place and less than 18 minutes behind leader Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). By the time the green flag waved the first cars across the finish line in Manhattan, KS, the Solar Eagle III had sped to first place overall.

Team Solar Eagle III crossed the finish line fourth today but leads the field of competitors in total elapsed time. University of Waterloo, second to cross the finish line today, trails Cal State L.A. in overall Sunrayce 97 standings by less than five minutes. Manta GT, MIT's entry, experienced motor failure 10 minutes into today's 152-mile leg. Approximately an hour and a half after Team Solar Eagle III crossed the finish line, the Manta GT had not finished the day's route.

Today's stretch progressed in less than desirable weather conditions, and much of the same is expected for tomorrow's 150-mile leg to Smith Center, KS.

Efficient solar panels and stored battery power are sure to separate successful teams from the rest of the field in the coming days. Team members wouldn't say that Cal State L.A. is about to run away with the Sunrayce 97 crown, but they would comment on the car's efficiency. "We know the Solar Eagle III can keep running on little energy," team member Dane Atol says. "It really is a very efficient, very well engineered solar car."

Wednesday, June 25: Race Day Six
Manhattan, KS to Smith Center, KS (150 Miles)
Solar Eagle III Cruising In First Place

After six full days of competition, Cal State L.A.'s Solar Eagle III has sole possession of first place in the overall Sunrayce 97 standings. Team Solar Eagle III continued to dominate the field of intercollegiate teams today, increasing their lead over the second place position to more than 20 minutes.

The Midnight Sun IV, University of Waterloo's race entry, was less than five minutes off Cal State L.A.'s lead when the starting gun sounded this morning in Manhattan, KS. Nearly an hour after the Solar Eagle III crossed the Smith Center finish line, the Midnight Sun IV had not completed the race route. Former Sunrayce leader, the Manta GT of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), finished today's 150-mile leg first, followed by University of Minnesota's Aurora 3, Texas A & M's Mach 5, and Stanford/U.C. Berkeley's Afterburner.

Cal State L.A.'s consistent, reliable performance throughout Sunrayce 97 has earned it the reputation of a sleeping giant. The Solar Eagle III has yet to be first across a finish line, but it is the only car in the field of contenders that hasn't broken down. "We haven€t had a single problem; not even a flat tire," says Dr. Raymond Landis, advisor to the Solar Eagle III project and Dean of Cal State L.A.€s School of Engineering and Technology. "The car is just running great."

Fortunately, team weather forecaster, Mark Van Dalm, is predicting sunny conditions through Day Seven, a stretch of 166 miles from Smith Center to St. Francis, KS. Today's sun should allow Team Solar Eagle III to fully juice the car's batteries, allowing it to drive the speed limit and maintain its first place standing. Only three days of running the speed limit separates Team Solar Eagle III from a golden Sunrayce victory.

Thursday, June 26: Race Day Seven
Smith Center, KS to St. Francis, KS (166 Miles)
Solar Eagle III still ahead, but MIT is gaining

It was another fast one at Day Seven of the Sunrayce 97 intercollegiate solar car race. Cal State L.A.'s Solar Eagle III, still in first place by more than 25 minutes, was third to cross the finish in St. Francis, KS, averaging 46 miles per hour for the 166 mile route.

Although the Solar Eagle III is still running at top performance, gleaning maximum efficiency from its solar-charged batteries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is hot on its tail. MIT's Manta GT began today's leg in third place overall, more than 30 minutes off Cal State L.A.'s lead. Today, the Manta GT sped past Stanford/U.C. Berkeley's Afterburner to take control of second place and gain 11 minutes on the Solar Eagle III. The Afterburner pulled in eighth today, falling back nearly an hour off the lead.

Team Solar Eagle III successfully challenged a four minute penalty that was levied on Day Five, and at the end of today's event, Cal State L.A. had increased its lead over MIT to nearly 26 minutes.

In other Sunrayce developments, George Washington University, whose GW entry won the Sunrayce 97 pole position last month by turning in the best qualifying performance, withdrew from the competition at the end of Day Six. Although Sunrayce has not provided an official explanation for the team's withdrawl, reports from the route suggest that the GW blew a tire and spun out, damaging its frame.

Sunrayce 97 is shaping up to be an exciting sprint to the Colorado Springs finish line on Saturday. Teams are competing under prime solar car racing weather conditions. If the sun stays out, the Solar Eagle III's batteries will stay charged. If the Solar Eagle III's batteries stay charged, the car will be able to drive the speed limit. And if the Solar Eagle III can maintain the speed limit, it's going to be a tough car to beat to the Colorado Springs finish line.

Friday, June 27: Race Day Eight
St. Francis, KS to Limon, CO (140 Miles)
Solar Eagle III hanging on in first place

"This race is getting a little too exciting," says Dr. Raymond Landis, advisor to the Solar Eagle III project and Dean of the School of Engineering and Technology at Cal State L.A. Landis made his remark from Limon, CO, where Team Solar Eagle III just crossed the finish line fifth on the second-to-last day of Sunrayce 97. Despite aggressive gains made over the past two days by second place contender, Massachusetts Institute Technology (MIT), Cal State L.A. is still in first place overall, 20 minutes ahead of MIT's Manta GT. Today's results have set the stage for a Sunrayce sprint on the final day of competition. Day Nine gets under way tomorrow morning in St. Francis and wraps up 77 miles away in Colorado Springs.

The top six teams crossed the Limon finish line today within seven minutes of each other. They are the same six teams that have been keeping each other company on the Sunrayce front line since the first few days of competition. Apart from Cal State L.A. and MIT, the struggle to be a top finisher in Sunrayce 97 also continues for University of Waterloo, Stanford/U.C. Berkeley, University of Minnesota, and Texas A & M.

Mark Van Dalm, team weather forecaster, concurs, but says the team's accomplishments thus far have already made it a winner. "It€s hard to grasp that we€re this close, but no matter what happens, this car is a huge success."

Saturday, June 28: Race Day Nine
Limon, CO to Colorado Springs, CO (77 Miles)
Solar Eagle III Wins Sunrayce 97!

Cal State L.A.'s Solar Eagle III won the prestigious Sunrayce 97 intercollegiate solar car race on Saturday, June 28, 1997, crossing the Colorado Springs finish line under fittingly sunny skies. Setting a course record for average speed of 43.29 mph, Cal State L.A. finished nearly 20 minutes ahead of second place Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The combined team of Stanford University/U.C. Berkeley finished third.

Texas A & M, whose team used the molds for Cal State L.A.'s Solar Eagle II to build their entry, the MACH V, finished fourth.

The Colorado Springs finish marked the end of 1,230 miles and ten days of exciting intercollegiate solar car racing. Throughout the competition, Cal State L.A., MIT, and Stanford/U.C. Berkeley jockeyed in the top three positions. Although Cal State L.A. never lost possession of first place after gaining the lead on June 24, MIT's Manta GT stayed within 25 minutes of the lead, keeping the race close to the last mile. But in the end, Cal State L.A.'s victory was convincing. The Solar Eagle III was the only car in the field of competitors that didn't break down--not even a flat tire!

The sprint over the last 77 miles from Limon, CO to the Colorado Springs finish line were characteristic of the previous eight race days--close and exciting! The Solar Eagle III and the Manta GT took turns leading the day's field, but a couple of flat tires kept MIT from gaining any ground before the finish.

And what an exciting finish it was! Thousands showed up for the the final minutes of Sunrayce 97, lining the last mile of the race to cheer on the finishing teams. The last moments of the Solar Eagle III's blue ribbon performance were punctuated by Dr. James Rosser, president of Cal State L.A., who waved the black checkered flag. Later, a jubilant Dr. Rosser spoke at the Sunrayce 97 awards ceremony, relating the university community's pride in its Sunrayce champion. Dr. Rosser told the crowd that the Sunrayce win was a harbinger of great things to come for Cal State L.A. as the university heads into its 50th anniversary year.

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