Owing in part to a desire to distance itself from the negative experiences of ASC 2003, the team took a break from solar cars during the Fall and Winter of that year. During those months, the team assessed the feasibility of a completely different design project: a long-range pure electric vehicle — with the ultimate goal of driving from San Francisco to Washington, DC on a single charge. Through a highly iterative design process, the team developed a prototype chassis and several body designs. And while the team’s level of experience and the involvement of several highly knowledgeable alumni would have put the team in a strong position to build a successful vehicle, the long-range EV project was abandoned in March of 2004 due to the prohibitive amount of R+D that would have been required. SSCP decided it would not be able to support the financial and personnel requirements of that project.
At this point, the consortium of alumni and team members split: the Solar Car Project decided to build a new car for the 2005 North American Solar Challenge. (It’s worth noting that SSCP alumnus and consortium member JB Straubel was still able to get his fix of EVs: he has since become the CTO of EV-startup Tesla Motors). With renewed resolve, the team defined a new goal: Win the 2005 North American Solar Challenge.
For the next 12 months, the team worked steadily toward an April 1, 2005 goal of a fully-testable vehicle. With the exception of a few bumps in the road (literally and figuratively), construction was fairly smooth — the team missed its April 1 deadline by only 2 days, with all systems (except the array, which was delayed by a vendor) integrated and ready to test in the first week of April. Local testing began, followed shortly thereafter by Central Valley test drives: camping at an I-5 rest stop, getting kicked out of Foster’s Freeze, and (most memorably) a weekend spent in the Carl’s Jr. parking lot in Chowchilla, CA.
In early May, the team unveiled Solstice to the public — and barely had time to catch its breath before a contingent of team members took the car to Topeka the following week for NASC early qualifiers. While the car passed scrutineering readily, electrical problems prevented Solstice from logging the required number of qualifying miles. Exhausted and frustrated, the team headed back to campus to overhaul the car’s electronics and improve mechanical systems.
Over the next several months, the team logged more than 1600 test miles on Solstice, gradually shaking out bugs along the way. In July 2005, the team headed to Austin for scrutineering and final qualifiers. Aside from a wayward brake testing attempt, scrutineering and qualifiers were exceedingly smooth: the team even secured third starting position because of its success in the qualifying laps. Solstice had by this point logged over 2000 miles of driving.
The start of NASC 2005 was difficult for the team: some lingering electrical faults caused the car to stall out on the start line. Another stall during the first day delayed the team along a highway in Texas. Fortunately, these were the last reliability failures of the race: from the second day onward, the car performed without any failures. From here out, Stanford moved to the front of the stock-class field, in a tight race with UC Berkeley’s CalSol until the end of the race. Through some shrewd work by the team’s strategist, Stanford was able to edge out CalSol by the finish line in Calgary, claiming first place in the stock class.
While testing was essential to a successful race for Solstice, the contributions of individual team members were equally essential. Effort by the Mechanical, Electrical, Composites, and — quite notably– Strategy subteams enabled a successful race in 2005.