Devon Prep’s Solar Car Team, The Devon Panel, with Riedel as its captain, completed the 2013 Solar Car Challenge, an 884 mile open road race from Fort Worth, TX to Los Angeles, CA. This 8 day race draws high school teams from across the country, including New York, Florida, Texas, California, Michigan and Mississippi.
After completing 516.6 miles through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California in scorching heat, wind storms and rain The Devon Panel arrived at the finish line in LA in 4th place, taking home a rather sizable trophy. At that point the Solar Car journey was officially over for Riedel, having graduated from Devon Prep a month earlier. But he accomplished his goal and won a prize for it as well.
“When I first heard about this project I thought it was a really cool idea,” Riedel explained. “I’m interested in ecology and this seemed like a great way to get into green technology. I’ve learned so much. I know about battery power, motors, how the strength of steel is determined, how solar panels are made. It’s been a great experience.”
Since this journey began in 2010, The Devon Panel has had to work at not just building a solar car from scratch, but also building a bank account. A project like this isn’t easy or inexpensive so they began with a mission statement, created a Facebook page and a website and researched how to solicit for donations. With help from parents, school administrators, friends and alumni they raised thousands of dollars, gleaned valuable information, and acquired critical equipment for free, such as the costly solar panels donated by Motech Industries, Inc.
With determination, patience and diligence the team constructed
The Devon Panel raced Sol Tide in the 2011 and 2012 Solar Car Challenges finishing in 4th place and 2nd place respectiely. Both of those races were on a closed track at the Texas Motor Speedway. This year would be different. So the team, comprised of 11 Devon Prep high school students under the supervision of their moderator Mr. Eric Riedel, Jacob’s dad, went to work to get Sol Tide ready for the open road.
“We had to get a new motor controller which allows us to control how fast we set the car. We upgraded the motor for more torque, got new batteries, and Motech donated two new solar panels,” Riedel explained. “We also redesigned the skin. We changed the color to blue, added all of our sponsors’ logos, the Devon Prep logo and the name of the car.”
The logistics of getting everyone where they needed to be from Pennsylvania, to Texas to California and back was another challenge for the team. They had to plan who would drive the trailer (holding the car) from Devon to Texas and who would drive it back from LA. They needed to rent hotel rooms, buy airline tickets, and rent lead and chase vehicles for the race. Not to mention mapping out their strategy for the race itself.
“The race is rated with a combination of mileage and time,” said Senior Michael Horbowy. “Since it’s on the open road there will be hills and everything, so you have the option of putting the car in the trailer and taking it up a hill so you don’t deplete your batteries too much. But every time you do that the miles that you drive in the trailer count against you. Since you have to accumulate as many miles as possible, you have to figure that all out.”
Once they were in Texas Sol Tide went through two days of qualifying tests before The Devon Panel was allowed to participate.
“During the first day of the race, our gear shredded the bolts holding it on and flew out of the car,” Riedel said. “When we pulled off to the side of the busy highway, we then noticed that the gear had ripped our brake line as well. We decided to trailer to the next rest stop which was several miles away.”
The team worked diligently to fix the problems and fortunately they were able to make up many of the miles. The rest of the race included hours of driving through small towns and on major highways. The weather was often dry and sunny, which is great for the car’s batteries. But there were also torrential downpours, cloudy days and lots of wind. Along the way the participating teams stopped to display their cars to local residents and talk to the press. They even squeezed in a little sightseeing.
Finally arriving in LA was both exciting and sad for the team, especially Riedel. They managed to accomplish their goal, they finished the race. But the long anticipated event was now over. It was time to pack up the car and head home.
“The road race was a ton of work, but the thrills and experiences made it worth the effort,” said Junior Evan Hennessy. “We are already brainstorming ideas for how to improve the car for next year’s challenge. The entire trip was fantastic and memorable.”
For Riedel, the time, effort and late nights put into this project were more than worth it. He credits the experience with giving him direction for the future.
“It’s been a great three years,” he said. “Last year was definitely difficult; it was a lot of driving. This year was the most rewarding. I think the experiences that I’ve had with the car are what led me to the college that I chose and the degree that I’m going to pursue, which is electrical engineering. I would have had no idea what I wanted to do without the solar car. So it was really a way for me to find myself.
“I learned the importance of cooperation and working as a team to complete a large scale project,” the soon to be Olin College Freshman continued. “The first year that we went into this we built the car in a matter of months. I think what we did was truly incredible. We had a lot of determination among the team and we just really worked hard to get it done.
“I am so proud of the team for being able to push through all of the obstacles and never giving up. Through this program,” Riedel concluded, “I learned so much, not only about mechanics and engineering, but what we can accomplish when we work together.”
For more visit www.devonprep.com.