Aug. 19, 2022

UCalgary solar car team back on the Formula Sun Grand Prix podium

Schulich engineering students excited to build the next generation of solar-powered vehicles
The UCalgary solar car team poses for a post-race photo in Topeka, Kansas. UCalgary solar car team

It's a 2,447-kilometre drive from the University of Calgary to the Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas.

The student-members of the UCalgary solar car team from the Schulich School of Engineering would love to make that trek entirely in their Schulich Elysia one day.

For now, they will settle for the nearly 1,000 kilometres driven in the car during the Formula Sun Grand Prix in July, where the team finished third in the multi-occupant vehicle class.

“The field was a lot more competitive than in previous years, so we really had to bring our A-game and focus for a win,” says team communications manager Max Shedd. “We had a strong car and strong team, and I don’t think we could have asked for more.”

Stuck at the starting line

It’s been a long couple of years for the team.

After winning the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin, Texas in 2019, they had their eyes set on repeating as champions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to those plans, and ultimately led to the car sitting in the shop for most of the last two years.

“COVID really hurt our team,” energy storage lead Colton Giesbrecht told CTV Calgary. “Because we were stuck out of our shop for so long, it’s hard to motivate someone when you don’t know when competition is going to start.”

While they were able to access the car in fall 2021, many fresh faces were now in the garage with the team as many of the veterans had graduated.

Fast and furious

It was like a scene from a movie or television show where a dusty cover is pulled off to uncover an classic car underneath.

While the Schulich Elysia isn’t that old (designed in 2016 and completed in 2019), the team had to catch up on maintenance and upgrades to get the car ready for the next race.

One of the big milestones for the team was to finally get outside in the sun to charge the car and test-drive it. After being dormant for so long, it was amazing to see Schulich Elysia get back into racing form.

Aside from the car, the new-look team also had to handle the logistics of getting the car and 13 of the 80-member team to Kansas.

“Overall, preparing was a full team effort,” Shedd says.

Once at the raceway, the team’s relief at finally arriving was quickly replaced by the exhilaration of the performance.

It started with having to pass a safety and engineering test from scrutineers before moving on to the planning for how to beat the other 20 teams competing.


UCalgary solar car ceam

“We didn’t know how we would stack up against those other teams,” Justine Lohmann, the team’s assistant communications manager, told CTV. “So being there, being in the race environment and the stress and all the pressure to be able to perform and return to the podium was really, really exciting for all of us.”

She says the car handled really well and was a lot of fun to drive.

The road ahead

While the team was hoping to win the race again, Shedd says the team is proud that it was able to stay on the podium with their third-place finish.

“It is such an ambitious goal to compete in a solar car competition,” he says. “There are so many moving parts, with hundreds of challenges in everything from engineering to logistics to race strategy to funding, and after being online for two years, returning to competition has given the team a renewed experience and understanding of what it takes to build and race cars.”

Giesbrecht says the car has a lot of potential, adding he would love to see one driving down the highway one day.

“It’s one thing learning engineering in a book, but, with this, you get to do that teamwork and the type of compromises you’re going to do with a design, and the real world doesn’t work like a textbook,” he says. “This is the kind of experience that you’re going to need to be a successful engineer.”

The team is already looking forward to next year’s competition, and already have their next vehicle design in mind: a sixth-generation, four-seat sedan called Schulich Helios.