After six years of hard work and competitions, UF’s SolarGators placed first in the 2023 Electrek Formula Sun Grand Prix, held June 27–July 2 at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, KS. The student-run team, sponsored in part by both the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (MAE), drove their vehicle, Sunrider, 707.5 miles powered only by the sun. Last year’s winners, Principia College, came in second place with 542.5 miles. Team SolarGators were also proud to receive certificates for most improved team and for aesthetics.

The Car

This was the second competition for Sunrider, SolarGators’ third vehicle. Design and manufacturing of their current vehicle began in 2019 and its debut was in the 2022 competition. The team overcame supply chain delays, the graduation of experienced team members, and challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic but were still able to improve on previous designs to build the current car. The current iteration of Sunrider features 3D-printed titanium uprights, a custom designed 5kwh battery pack consisting of 416 individual 18,650 lithium ion cells, a 1kw custom designed solar array, and completely customized low voltage embedded systems.

“As the Faculty Advisor for the Solar Gators, I am so proud of this team for not only achieving an overwhelming win, but the way they accomplished this feat. I have observed the hard work, late nights, and camaraderie of this large all-volunteer team. Team SolarGators exemplifies engineering excellence in the results that they produced, the mutual respect evident on the team, and their selfless dedication to each other. The entire university should be proud of these students.”—Dr. James A. Trainham, MAE

Team SolarGators were especially proud of the speed with which they passed scrutineering. They were the first team in their class, and the second team overall, to complete this crucial step in the competition, leaving them with an entire day to add finishing touches and double-check all the systems in the vehicle.

Sunrider was driven to Topeka (and back!) by MAE Facilities Operations Specialist Daniel Preston. In his role, he provides safety and maintenance support for the MAE Student Design Center. He routinely provides safety and mechanical support to Team SolarGators and was with the team throughout the race.

The Race

The Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) is an annual road-style closed course endurance race. Competitors come from schools all over North America. Vehicles undergo strict, multi-day scrutineering to ensure safety and regulations compliance. Drivers are also vetted with various dynamics tests to verify the handling of the car and driver. After completing the scrutineering stage, teams have 24 hours, spread over 3 days, to run as many miles as possible, and the team logging the most miles is the winner.

The FSGP serves as a qualifier for the American Solar Challenge (ASC), held every two years. The ASC is a cross country endurance race, spanning over 1,400 miles. With the first-place win at the FSGP, team SolarGators is assured of a spot in the 2024 ASC.