Reading news[0] of the University of Michigan Solar Car team leaving Darwin behind racing in the World Solar Challenge reminds me of memories forged in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in Michigan. Friends are sometimes curious why do I give so much attention to solar car races. The reason is simply that I was part of the student group that was responsible for building Michigan’s 7th generation solar car. Though the car, Spectrum, embarrassingly became the first car from Michigan to fail to qualify for the North American Solar Challenge — the NASC or as it was known then, the American Solar Challenge, is probably the second most important race after the World Solar Challenge — I am immensely proud of whatever minor role I played for the team.

Besides, it is Michigan. I am everything I am, because of Michigan. I am eternally indebted to the school and I do not write these words lightly.

I wished I had participated in building the 8th generation car, Momentum, because this team went on to avenge the disaster of Spectum. They won the NASC and clinched the third place in the WSC.

I had serious personal problem then that I was forced to cease participation with solar car. On top of that, my grades were hurting. The amount of time spent on solar car per week was too much for me. At one time, I spent roughly 36 hours per week either testing solar panels, helping or rather, really, watching wire harnessing exercise or simply, hanging out in the workshop in Ypsilanti.

I needed to concentrate on my life. I needed to rebuild it. Something had to give and I regretfully chose solar car.

If I remember correctly, Momentum itself was named to remind all of the effort done on SpectrumMomentum was built from the lessons of Spectrum. In a way, Momentum had Spectrum’s momentum. The members of Momentum were mostly with part of Spectrum team anyway.

I remember friend Mirai Aki (the three miles incident will remain forever as the most hilarious episode I have experienced yet), the first person I befriended with with respect to solar car, and several others, working on Momentum, determined to redeem pride lost in 2003. They did Michigan proud in 2005.

In 2007 and 2008, the 9th generation car, Continuum, proved why Michigan is the most successful solar car team in North America. The team won the race outright. In the corresponding World Solar Challenge, Continuum managed the seventh place, despite suffering from an accident earlier in the race. Nuon from the Netherlands went on to win the first place, as they always do. Nuon has always been the giant to beat in solar car racing. The other giant is the Aurora team from Australia.

The 10th generation car called Infinium appears to have an opportunity to do better than Momentum. Indeed, I would go as far as saying that Michigan actually has a real chance of winning the World Solar Challenge this year because Nuon, like Michigan in 2007, has suffered from an accident days earlier. With the giant Nuon out of commission, Michigan stands, in my view, as the favorite to win.

Two days into the race, Michigan is now placed third behind Belgian Umicore and Japanese Tokai. Nuon is currently fourth behind Michigan.[1] I am unsure what is happening to team Aurora however.

Nevertheless, this is only the first stage. There are hundreds of mile to go yet. It is way too early to celebrate anything.

What is special about this race is that, for the first time ever, I am in Australia and I will have the opportunity to witness Michigan crossing the finishing line in Adelaide. As I left Malaysia behind on an airplane, that was what I told myself. I want to be in Adelaide when that happened.

I am unsure if I will fulfill that promise that I made to myself. I have papers just a week away from the expected day the race is to end. Travelling to Adelaide from Sydney may require me to sacrifice time that I need to prepare myself for my papers.

Following this race will be exciting. In 2007 and 2008, global position system and blogging tools were heavily used. I think that revolutionized the way individuals track progress. This time, well, we have Twitter.

In any case, to Michigan, to Infinium, I say good luck. Bring the trophy back home to Ann Arbor. It has been long overdue.

As they say it, go fast, go smooth and go Blue!

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[0] — After winning back the Ashes, the Brits are gunning for the World Solar Challenge, the race across Australia for cars powered only by the sun.

A team from Cambridge University has entered the race for the first time and with the backing of new Formula One champion Jenson Button, has immediately been listed among the favourites.

The 3,000km race from Darwin to Adelaide gets underway on Sunday with the leading cars expected in Adelaide a bit over three days later.

Hot favourites are the Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands with their car Nuna 5.

The team holds the race record and has won the past four events.

But organisers say the Dutch will be under pressure this year after a testing accident in Darwin that badly damaged Nuna 5.

The Dutch also face a strong challenge from the University of Michigan’s car Infinium, the Belgium entry from the Umicore Solar Team called Umicar Inspire, Germany’s BoCruiser car from the HS Bochum team, the Swiss entry Heliox II, Australia’s own Aurora 101 and the Cambridge team with its car dubbed Endeavour.The team successfully made it Katherine. They are currently in 3rd place, trailing Tokai and Umicore by 5 minutes. After a roadside pit stop, Nuon is in 4th place trailing by 10 minutes. Weather is sunny so all top teams are hitting speeds between 100KPH and 110KPH. [Brits battle Aussies in solar car race. Tim Dornin. Sydney Morning Herald Tribune. October 23 2009]

[1] — The team successfully made it Katherine. They are currently in 3rd place, trailing Tokai and Umicore by 5 minutes. After a roadside pit stop, Nuon is in 4th place trailing by 10 minutes. Weather is sunny so all top teams are hitting speeds between 100KPH and 110KPH. [Infinium Reaches First Check Point. University of Michigan Solar Car Team. October 24 2009]

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