posted on June 29: McMaster’s solar car ready to soar


As one observer noted, it looks like something out of the Jetsons.

A group of McMaster students and graduates are feverishly putting the finishing touches on the University's first solar car.

Some of the team who've worked on the car that looks like a miniature blue-paneled spacecraft unveiled it Wednesday at the Faculty of Engineering's second annual summer barbecue.

A team of about 10 plan to race the No. 13 Fireball in this summer's American Solar Challenge, a race that will follow historic Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The first test will come July 8 when the car is entered in a qualifier event held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. If it meets the requirements there, then the team will head to the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago for the July 15 kickoff.

The solar car race is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and will feature about 40 solar-powered cars built by university teams — including at least eight Canadian university teams — and companies and clubs from around the world.

The McMaster solar car has been in development for the last four years and made its inaugural debut in the annual solar car race in 1999. That time the car wasn't ready.

Team drivers and contributors include Jeff Winter, Tom Rodinger, Ben Zimmermann, Andrew Baerg and Bob Maharaj.

They're convinced this summer their pet project — built with many in-kind donations that would total about $400,000 — is going to fly.

They have spent days without sleep and hundreds of hours assembling the car's components and meticulously placing about 800 small solar cells on the car's body.

“We think the top speed could be about 100 kilometres an hour but the average speed for the race will be about 60 kilometres,” said Rodinger, a biochemistry graduate and one of the team's three drivers.

The team will use the engineering Fireball van to haul the car to the race but they still need two other vehicles to travel with the car on the race route. And they could use some sponsorship so they can eat along the way.

And what if the race route through the desert isn't sunny?

“We'll go slow and conserve energy,” said Rodinger. The car is equipped with a battery that can also juice up the blue machine.

SOLAR CAR TEAM: (L) Bob Maharaj, Andrew Baerg, Ben Zimmermann, Tom Rodinger, Jeff Winter.

UNDER THE HOOD: (L) Jeff Winter, Tom Rodinger

Photo: Shelly Easton