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Solar Car Team Launches Fund Raising Campaign

courtesy of the Solar Electric Vehicle Team
David Leip '92 watches as J. Andrew Buttner '99, now primary driver for the Solar Electric Vehicle Team, helps Ivano Gregoratto '97 into Manta GT during Sunrayce 97.

By Jennifer Chung
Staff Reporter

The MITSolar Electric Vehicle Team is beginning a sponsorship drive to raise $1.1 million in funds which will be used for building this year's car and for travel to international competitions in Japan and Australia.

"Given sufficient fiscal support, we want to prove that, as MIT students, we can create a car which can compete at the highest levels against the best solar car teams in the world," said DingliChen '98, fund raising coordinator for SEVT.

The team has been invited to attend the World Solar Car Ralley in Akita, Japan in August, 1998. The group also plans to attend the biennial World Solar Challenge, billed as the largest solar car race in the world, where it will face five hundred competitors in a grueling 2,000 mile race in Australia in October, 1998.

The team is currently sponsored by RGCreations, Kinko's, Bertucci's, Domino's, the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Provost's Office.

The team has been working in two-year project cycles, with the first year dedicated to design, and the second year concentrating on construction, testing, and racing. That format works particularly well to build team effort, "which means a lot,"Chen said.

This year, however, SEVT is departing from the two-year cycle. "We're being a little more ambitious,"said Chris Carr '99, treasurer and fund raising coordinator for the SEVT.

"We have a good chance; our car is very efficient,"Carr said. Depending on road and weather conditions, last year's car,Manta GT, which captured second place in the Sunrayce 97, was able to hit 55 miles per hour using just the power consumed by a hair dryer, Chen said.

This year's project, the Manta GTX, is based on the same body and chassis as Manta GT, but Manta GTXhas a different body layout and several design modifications.

Car more expensive than usual

Compared to some of the other vehicles which have raced in Australia before, the $1.1 million the SEVT seeks seems a modest sum. Honda has won the past two races and "their 1996 vehicle, theHonda Dream, cost $6 million," Carr said.

"The World Solar Challenge has competitions based on several levels,"Carr said. "The reason the cost of Manta GTX will be so high is because of the solar cells we would like to use, so that we can race in the highest class." Other competitions, such as Sunrayce, may have limits on the type of solar cells which can be used.

"If we don't get the amount of money we need for the right solar panels,"Carr said, "we will have to race in a lower class." With basic solar cells, the car would cost $250,000.

The threat of demolition has caused the team to move out of their lab in Building 20 into the University Park area, Chen said.

"We haven't had a lab for several months because of reshuffling, and the project is off to a late start we'll need to ship our car in June," Chen said.

"Once the lease is signed, we need to start getting materials; we need to start moving stuff - expensive, unbreakable stuff - which will take time and money," Chen said.

Once work begins on Manta GTX, "we plan on making the lab like a museum,"Chen said. "We will definitely offer tours, and probably seminars, over IAP."

Students devote time and effort

"This is one of the most time-consuming" activities, Chen said. "And many members are very busy outside of solar car" work.

"From my experiences in high school,"working on an electrical vehicle team,"I was expecting more faculty adviser involvement,"said Jacinda L. Clemenzi '01. "I've been really impressed, that the entire project is run by students."