Q: What’s your first impression of the route?
Jonathan Cook: I’m really excited because it crosses the entire Midwest, and being from the Midwest, at a Midwest university – that’s cool. Also, I’m looking forward to the starting point, the Monticello Motor Club. It’s like a country club, but instead of a golf course or a swimming pool it has a very nice race track. I’ve heard it’s one of the best road courses in the U.S. As a big racing fan, I’m looking forward to seeing how the racetrack feels.
Q: Is there anything you’re worried about?
J.C.: In terms of potential problems, there are a lot of areas that we’re unfamiliar with. The route is east to west rather than north-south, and that poses different issues because the sun travels a different path over the car. We know that we’re going from Madison to La Crosse and then up to St. Paul. La Crosse is surrounded by a lot of bluffs, different elevations. It might be worth taking a journey ahead of time to map out the area. Mountains are hard because we have to propel our car up them, and that takes a lot of energy. If we know there’s a very steep hill, we have to plan ahead. If we stop on the hill, we might not be able to accelerate enough to get over. That means we have to build up speed approaching the hill, but we can’t go over the speed limit of course. It’s nice to know the curvature of a hill ahead of time, whether it’s really steep at first and then shallows out and details like that.
Q: Tell me more about the Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Monticello Motor Club.
J.C.: The Formula Sun Grand Prix is technically its own race, but it effectively serves as the qualifier for the American Solar Challenge. It makes sure that all the cars are safe and stable enough to handle actual roads, and it gives us a chance to test our car for eight hours. The track race is usually a lot more fun, too. You get to hang out with the other teams, show off your car, chat about new features, etc. Usually it’s really difficult to test our cars before the race happens. We have to leave for the race the week after finals, or sometimes during finals. But this race starts on July 6, which means we’ll have two or three weeks after our finals to prepare the car, do testing, fine-tune our race strategy and maybe even survey the route beforehand.
Q: What’s the next step in preparing for the race?
J.C.: We need to get data on specific elevation changes in the hills, on sunlight level, stoplights and that kind of stuff. We need to figure out how we’re going to survey the route to get all that data. In an ideal world, we’d drive it all with the solar car, but that’s too expensive and takes too much time, so we’re going to have to find another way.