U of M solar car takes 2nd place in race

Centaurus II
The University of Minnesota solar car team with their vehicle, Centaurus II.
University of Minnesota

A solar-powered car designed by University of Minnesota students sped over the Ozark Mountains to a second place finish in a long-distance road race last week.

The team beat out 15 competitors, including a group from Germany, to win the second place title in the American Solar Challenge race. A team from the University of Michigan came in first.

Thirty students with the University of Minnesota's Solar Vehicle Project spent more than 50,000 hours creating the gasoline-free Centaurus II. The car, named after one of the largest constellations, weighs 390 pounds and can race for hundreds of miles at a time.

Crew chief Alan Jacobs said he's pleased with the second place finish -- and a bit relieved that the race is finally over. He woke up at 5:30 a.m. each day of the week-long race to charge the car for two hours, and then followed behind in a van to watch for any mechanical problems.

"You're driving along on the highway, and you've got cornfields on the side, and that's all you see for three hours, and most people are sleeping in the van," he said. "Then all of a sudden you pop a tire ... and everyone needs to be alert and awake. It's quite an experience."

The University of Minnesota senior jokingly described the race as "a mix between sleep depravity and moments of sheer terror, spaced out by just hours of sheer boredom."

The team finished with a total time of 30 hours, 26 minutes and 53 seconds.

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