On the road with Sunsetters
Formula Sun Grand Prix 2001 - Kansas


2001 Formula Sun Grand Prix Results
2nd place in stock class for Formula Sun Grand Prix 2001 - Kansas
3rd place overall for Formula Sun Grand Prix 2001 - Kansas
4th team to qualify for American Solar Challenge 2001
5th place in Formula Sun Grand Prix 2001 quarter mile sprint race
Fastest Figure-8 time

Update - Sunday, May 6, 2001


The hotel

The journey began for members of Sunsetters Solar Race Team who departed the shop at 4:45 a.m. Sunday morning. After about 20 miles total of driving on the car, the team will participate in a qualifying race, Formula Sun, the rest of the week. This event is taking place in Topeka, Kansas. A van and a suburban, each pulling a trailer, carried thirteen members from the team. The crew had hardly left Fargo when the suburban ran out of transmission fluid and so the van drove back to Fargo and got more fluid, coolant, and oil. A few hours later the transmission appeared to be overheating so the team stopped at a Dairy Queen to eat and let it cool down a little. In the meantime, daylight was beginning to break. One more problem occurred when the brakes locked up on the trailer holding the solar car and the wheels started steaming. A quick stop assured that the solar car was safe inside. However, fourteen hours later and after multiple intriguing conversations over the mobile radios, the Sunsetters arrived in Topeka. The team parked their vehicles at the Capitol Plaza hotel and made it inside just in time for their meeting at 7 p.m. Electrical testing was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday followed by mechanical testing at 1:00, and body and dimensions testing at 3:00. The meeting was followed by a Sunsetters' team meeting. The team dispersed for supper. Coming together again at 9 p.m. tasks began to be delegated for working on the car and grocery shopping was also done. Sunday night was spent working on a few last minute changes with the steering system. Iowa State was nice enough to give us a switch. A headrest was made for the driver and the communication system for the driver was also perfected. Checklists were compiled for things to do the next morning as well. Throughout the evening, members from other teams stopped to look at our progress. Talking with them gave Sunsetters confidence along with some valuable insight for the rest of the week.

Monday, May 7, 2001


Not wrestling
Inspecting the frame
Inspecting the frame
Inspecting the frame
Inspecting the frame
Inspecting the frame
The shell on the stand
Carrying the shell, with the shell stand following behind
Loading the car into the trailer
Lifting the shell off the frame
Never a dull moment
The track
The Sunsetters tent
Further inspection
Pulling data from the array
Looking over said data
Mounting a tire
Last minute work
Yeah, we're cutting-edge

In the early hours of Monday morning, even before everyone went to bed, the team appeared tired and several members decided to give each other drastic haircuts. A few others also agreed to shave their heads under the condition that greens were received in the testing later in the day. The team gathered in their new dark blue uniform shirts bright and early for breakfast, packed up, and excitedly headed to the track. After signing several waivers, work was once again begun. At 9:30 the solar car was brought down closer to the track for testing. In each testing section at qualifiers, a green means that the team has done excellent craftsmanship. A yellow, on the other hand, means that the solar car will be allowed to compete although some suggestions will have been made towards improvements. However, if they receive a red rating, they will not be allowed on the track. Many factors are rated in each of the testing sections. The team receives the color rating of their lowest factor for that area. Little was known about what to expect of the electrical engineering scruitineering. The officials had a couple questions about the disconnects but the Sunsetters knew how to answer them. They seemed to be very impressed about how well the car was constructed for a rookie team, especially the lockout system. A yellow rating was received due to two small issues. They wanted a second method for the accelerator to return to zero as well as another decal for safety on the canopy. Basically, the scruitineering went through rapidly. Mechanical engineering evaluations also took place in the afternoon. The car proved to have no major problems. However, the officials pointed out some valuable things to recalculate and also some things we may never have thought of. For instance, it was mentioned that the tie rods should be checked for sheer stress and bending moment. They also suggested reinforcing some of the suspension components. Overall, they also received a yellow. The team plans to address these issues suggested before ASC in July. It was decided that dimensions and body testing will be conducted on Tuesday along with the dynamics. Although not required, Sunsetters took the opportunity to have their solar array tested and assessed. A great deal of valuable data was calculated and graphed. It will come in handy when the racing strategy is calculated. It received the superb rating of green. While some of the evaluating was being conducted, a few members of the team chose to go and check out the track itself. A special race for charity was taking place throughout the day so the individuals were able to look at cars such as Vipers, Porsches, BMWs, and Corvettes as well as to see how they handled around the corners of the track. Lunch and supper were prepared by the team and ate near the solar car. A huge tent was also set up as a shelter and a place to work on the car during the evening. Regular tents were pitched across the parking lot for the team to spend the night in. A few wrestling matches took place among members of the team along with some Frisbee to lighten things up in the evening. More teams also arrived in Topeka throughout the day. The car and trailer styles proved to be as diverse as the locations that the teams were from. While many teams still had solar mechanisms to complete, Sunsetters was keeping it real.

Tuesday, May 8, 2001


Strapped in and ready to rock
President Eric Bradley
Hangin' out
The car, open
The track
More inspection
The car, turning
The car, open, reverse angle
Luke, striving for a sun-burned head...
...until he puts on his helmet.
Some adjustments to the motor
Not driving

As the only rookie team at the Topeka qualifiers, Sunsetters proved to be holding up well. Tuesday started off pretty sunny with a medium wind. However, several team members were portraying some nice sunburns from the previous day. The morning started off with body and dimension testing. The only issues brought up were that the role cage needed to completely encompass the driver and the lights on the car, if viewed from the wrong angle, were a little more dim than the officials liked. Due to those tribulations the team also received a yellow rating in this section. Several more things were worked on throughout late morning and early afternoon. About 20 minutes before dynamic testing was supposed to be conducted, the car received its first flat tire. The team worked quickly and was able to replace it in the neck of time. For the dynamics test it was required that the solar car be able to do a figure eight formation in a certain amount of time. Stopping in three seconds, from a speed of 30 mph was also a requirement. Having the capabilities to complete both of these tasks, Sunsetters received a green score. Upon completion of the six scrutineering stations, Sunsetters has successfully qualified for the Formula Sun Grand Prix, and will have an opportunity in the next three days to qualify for this summer's American Solar Challenge. Each of the four Sunsetters' drivers was given the opportunity to take a lap around the track in order to grasp the feel of it. Then at 5:45 p.m. Formula Sun hosted sprint races for all of the teams desiring to participate. Nine teams took up the challenge. Receiving a time of 33.107 seconds, Sunsetters took fifth place in the quarter-mile sprint. They beat the more experienced teams of Iowa State, Principia, and both Missouri teams and four more that did not compete in the sprint. Another team meeting was held at the Capitol Plaza hotel where the team learned the rules and regulations that would be upheld at the track the rest of the week. Afterwards, they took a short tour of Topeka that involved searching for a public library to update the web and also a stop at Home Depo.

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

A few of the Sunsetter members awakened early in order to receive television news coverage by WIBW prior to racing. Shortly later, the rest of the team piled up supplies and set up the pit. It was the first day of actual qualifying races. In order to qualify for the American Solar Challenge, it was necessary for each team to be able to complete 125 miles between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Furthermore, each lap must average above 25 mph or it does not count. The track is equipped with several curves and measures 2.1 miles long on the inside track. This figures out to approximately 60 laps around the track that the solar cars needed to travel. Not all teams started right away due to incomplete cars. However, the Sunsetters were set and received the fifth starting position in line due to their finish in the drag race yesterday. The green flag was waved high in the air and the race began. Sunsetter team members were placed in various points along the track and equipped with mobile radios. Between the grand stands, the opposing corner, the time tent, and the pit the team could see the majority of the track as well as communicate with the driver. Three of the drivers were given shifts at the wheel during this first day. Driver changes appeared to fit in nice with the timing of pit stops. Overall, Sunsetters averaged around 27-29 miles per hour and completed laps in around 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Around 2 p.m. the Sunsetters became the fourth team at Formula Sun to qualify. Keep in mind that this was incredibly impressive due to the fact that this is the team's first ever solar car and the fact that prior to today, the team had actually driven hardly more than 20 miles total. Taking first and second places was Texas A & M and Rose Holman respectively. University of Minnesota, Mankato pulled ahead of Sunsetters in the last lap due to a pit stop by the Fargo team. Pole position will go to the team that completes the most laps in two consecutive days. After completing the qualifying 60 laps, Sunsetters completed another ten laps and then pulled into the pits. Thursday and Friday will have much the same racing format. The team anxiously anticipates seeing exactly what NDSU's first ever solar car is capable of.

Thursday, May 10, 2001

Thursday held much less pressure for the Sunsetters. After already being qualified for the American Solar Challenge the team decided to take the day at a slower, steady pace in order to be the most efficient and not exploit too much extra energy. The day started off mostly cloudy and windy. The campers had experienced high winds and thunderstorms the previous night. However, it proved that the team had chosen a good night to put the drivers up in a hotel in order to maximize sleep. As the day progressed the sun shown more brightly, which is always a good thing with solar racing. Since the Sunsetters had chosen to drive two days in a row their batteries had been impounded throughout the night and they were able to retrieve them around 6 a.m. This day also proved to be good in terms of publicity for the North Dakota State University team. The drivers had brought a newspaper back from the hotel that had an article about the race. It neglected to describe many technical terms about the Sunsetters specifically, but the team was mentioned as qualifying and having an appealing pit atmosphere. Later in the afternoon it was also found out that on the main ASC website there were seven pictures posted from the previous day. Two of them featured Sunsetters car prominently. They also made the news on the WIBW television station the day before. By the end of the afternoon the Sunsetters had completed a total of 113 laps and were in fourth place. A couple unexpected pit stops had to be made, however. One of them was due to problems with the driver's communication system. This was able to be repaired and the Sunsetters could continue their extensive coverage from around the track. The equipment the team has been using seems to be advanced in comparison to some of the teams. By strategic positioning of other team members, communication is never lost with the driver. The other predicament that appeared with the car had to do with one of the power trackers. It appeared to be not pulling the charge off of one of the arrays for some time. Nevertheless, a replacement was installed that appeared to be working fine the rest of the day. The engineers feel that the one that was causing problems will be able to be repaired sometime in the near future. As the sun was setting several members of the team proved that the team extends beyond just engineering. An ultimate Frisbee game was compiled between Sunsetters and Rolla members. Members of UND and Headquarters were going to join as well, however, it became dark a little too fast. With one more day left of racing, the team is gaining much data about what the car is able to accomplish. There is no doubt that the team's high standards are the driving force in this new solar energy project at NDSU.

Friday, May 11, 2001

Five o'clock came quite soon and the Sunsetters rolled out of their tents and brought the van back down to the pits to unload. It was overcast and slightly chilly as the team pointed their array towards the horizon. At 9:00 a.m. the track was once again opened for the third and final day for cars to race and qualify. The strategy for the day was to once again just take things at a constant, slow pace at least until the sun emerged from behind the multiple clouds. It was not long before headquarters alerted the Sunsetters that their car had a slowly leaking flat tire. A few people from the pit quickly jumped into a green truck that took them to their solar car to repair the flat. Just starting to move again, the driver radioed to the pit telling them about a ticking, time-bomb like noise that continued to mount inside the car. Pulling into the hot pits, members began the inspection. The noise may have only been the sticker on one of the tires. However, with this type of investment it was better to be safe than sorry. While checking out the car, it was discovered that a place where there was welding on the suspension portrayed a crack. This was seen as a potentially large hazard and the team decided to pull their car for the day. A total of about 256 miles was driven on the track during the last three days of racing. This was adequate to gain a great deal of statistics. At this point the Sunsetters were also vying for third or fourth place. The team voted and decided to leave in early afternoon before the pit stop contest and awards were scheduled to take place. Heading part way back during the day would be both easier on the van and suburban as well as their drivers. One of the laptop was hooked up to an adapter in the van allowing team members to watch DVD's during the long drive. Reaching Sioux City and half way back to Fargo, the group of NDSU students stopped and checked into a hotel. After checking in they walked across the street and had a large victory dinner at Applebee's. A few members went for a swim as others relaxed and cleaned up. Even with leaving early, the mood was cheerful as many expectations had been achieved and surpassed. Plans for future improvements had already began as well.

Saturday, May 12, 2001

Continental breakfast kicked off the morning for the Sunsetters. It was no doubt that getting to sleep in a little was incredibly nice. Around 10:30 a.m. they once again hit the road heading back towards Fargo. Once again, however, the suburban began experiencing problems. The team was forced to stop in Sioux Falls to look for a service center. They were sent on a miniature wild goose chase to find the Chevrolet dealership. Once there, they broke out the sandwiches and ate lunch while the fuel filter was being replaced. Just before 8 p.m. the caravan with 13 Sunsetter members arrived back at the shop. They had traveled through 7 states (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas) and had reached their goal of qualifying for the American Solar Challenge in July. The Sunsetters showed the other teams their potential as well as exceeding their own, high expectations. The week was not only fun and exciting, it was also filled with team building. The combined efforts of sponsors, NDSU, and many individuals proved to be a success that will continue to experiment far into the future.