An atypical University of Michigan Solar Car squad raced in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge in typical U-M solar car fashion: finishing on top.
The team, composed of U-M alumni and students, partnered with students from the University of Abu Dhabi to race their championship car, Quantum, against 15 teams from six continents.
Starting in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, the race required three days of fierce racing through city streets and unending desert. By a narrow margin, the team was the first to cross the finish line on the last day of the competition. Overall, Quantum finished roughly two-and-a-half minutes ahead of the second place team, Petroleum Institute.
"The last day was the longest, hottest, hardest but the most satisfying," said driver Noah Kaczor, a fourth-year economics major at U-M. "It was a big relief crossing the finish line first. I'm proud and impressed by how well we've done."
The team has a history of strong performances in global solar competitions, but this is the first race they have won on an international stage. Bringing students and alumni together on a team is another first for this student run organization.
"What's really neat is that we've taken a legacy car that was never intended to be competitive at this point, a team of people who have never raced together, and came out here and battled hard against some amazing competitors," said Joe Lambert, crew chief and 2004 U-M aerospace engineering graduate. "It speaks to the depth and the integrity of the program that we've built. You can step back in, and the heartbeat is still the same. The idea is still the same."
One more layer of firsts was the team's partnership with Abu Dhabi University. More than a dozen ADU engineering students joined the U-M squad throughout the event. These students spent countless hours working alongside the team, learning about the technology, mechanics and strategy that define a successful solar car organization.
"This was a really, really good experience, and it was fun learning about how the car works," said Mohamed Mukhashin, a fourth-year ADU mechanical engineering student. "Everyone was very friendly and it was impressive to watch their work ethic. Hopefully, in two years, we will have our own car and be able to be in the race with our new friends."
Jeff Ferman, team manager and 2008 U-M graduate in computer science engineering, said, "Watching the Michigan spirit pull through and people pull closer and closer together has showcased exactly what we've got out of this program—and exactly what we've built this program to do.
"One of the things that drove us to come here was the opportunity to help grow the community. The chance to come back and help get another team started, and then be able to see them compete would be really exciting."
The team was awarded their trophy by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi at the opening ceremonies of the 2015 World Future Energy Summit, which kicks off Abu Dhabi Sustainability week. Quantum will be on display in various venues through the weeklong event.
"The solar car team has been around for a long time and has had a tradition of success in domestic competitions," said ME Assistant Professor Neil Dasgupta. "This win was a milestone for us because it was our first international victory, which made it really special."
"The win was a huge boost for the team. It showed us that we still have the ability to be the best team in the world, even with a car that was years older than the rest of the competition," said Arnold Kadiu, ME senior and lead engineer for the U-M Solar Car team. It really showed a lot of the newer team members what it meant to be a world class team."