University of Michigan Solar Car Team Prepares for International Race

U-M Solar Car Team poses with their vehicle
Four members of the U-M Solar Car team will drive their new vehicle "Astrum." Photo provided by Will Jones.

On Oct. 22, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team will compete in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, an international race in which solar-powered vehicles drive over 1,800 miles across the Australian outback. 

Starting in Darwin, Australia’s Northern Territory capital, the race takes place over several days, from Oct. 22 to Oct. 29, finishing in Adelaide in South Australia. During the race, teams can only drive their solar car from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and must abide by a host of limitations on their vehicle. These limitations range from rules like limited battery size, only allowing for 20 kilograms of battery cells, and only a four-meter squared solar array size, which converts sunlight into electricity.

For the U-M Solar Car Team, this event is described as the team’s pinnacle race, as the group works throughout the year in preparation for the multi-day race. Will Jones, a rising senior in engineering at U-M and the team’s race manager, said they began preparing for this race in Sept. 2022. Their vehicle called “Astrum” features a new three-wheel design to take advantage of new race regulations. 

“A good portion of the school year was spent on the design,” Jones said. “We use solvers and simulate the vehicle using computational fluid dynamics to run it through a virtual wind tunnel. The big thing that has remained in the vehicle is the same motor. It’s a brand new chassis, brand new solar, a brand new suspension, and steering brakes. It’s a brand new vehicle, effectively.” 

An entirely student-run organization, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team designs, builds, and races solar electric cars. This race is the team’s first competition in four years after going on a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their last World Solar Challenge in 2019, the U-M team finished third in the world. This year, the team plans to bring home the top prize. 

“A lot has to go right, and we believe that we have a great car that can be competitive, but we have to run it to the best of our ability,” Jones said. “The races are pretty intense. It’s not like a football game, that’s four hours, this is over days, and it takes a lot of resources and people-power to race these vehicles.”

During the race, there will be a team helping the solar car stay on track, as Jones and the crew will guide the vehicle in a separate caravan, monitoring the terrain and vehicle performance and informing the drivers when to make necessary changes. During the week-long experience, four team members will take turns driving the vehicle.  

“The vehicle is designed to be safe,” Jones said. “When we run in the outback, we will also have a weather vehicle with two or three people whose sole job is determining the weather up ahead and ensuring the vehicle is going to be able to operate safely. There is always, at a minimum, one car in front of the solar car and one car behind. This ensures that if something were to go wrong, there would be people there to monitor data values and keep an eye on anything that could potentially go wrong. That is how the vehicle drives.”

While the race is a month away, the 21-member team began their trip to Australia earlier this month to prepare for their forthcoming race as one of the two American teams facing 50 global competitors. 

“It feels really just incredible. We are super grateful to have the opportunity,” Jones said. “The team has built this great legacy that allows this team to go to Australia. We are one of two teams representing the United States: us and the University of Minnesota. We’re grateful to have the opportunity to represent not just the University of Michigan, but the United States.”

For more information visit the University of Michigan Solar Car website at

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Antonio Cooper is a freelance journalist from Detroit, Michigan. His coverage of music festivals and interviews with local celebrities appeared in The E-Current Magazine, The Detroit Metro Times, XXL Magazine, RichMagDigital, The Ann Arbor Observer, and Pop Magazine.