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University of Michigan's Solar Car Team places third in global competition

U-M only American team to cross finish line in Australia race

The U-M solar car team finished third in the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. (Photo: Joseph Xu/Michigan Engineering)

The University of Michigan Solar Car Team finished third on Thursday in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia.

The grueling, multi-day competition spanning the length of Australia tested the stamina of 40 contenders from 21 countries. U-M was the only American team to cross the finish line.

Michigan ended its five-day race in Adelaide, South Australia, on Thursday afternoon after the 1,800-mile race. It fell one spot since its last race in 2017 when it placed second in the challenge.

"I'm so proud of my entire team," Andrew Dickinson, the team's project manager and computer science junior said in a statement. "This team had so many curve balls thrown at us when we made this car and we handled every one of them ... I'm overjoyed and a little sad it's over."

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The team updated its electrical system to include new lightweight lithium polymer cells -- and the upgrade from traditional lithium ion batteries paid off. The team's car, Electrum, only made a few roadside stops.

During the fourth day of the race, the team experienced high winds and cloudy conditions in the outback. Two leading teams suffered wind-related crashes after going through strong winds of 40 mph. No one was injured, but it ended then-first place team Solar Team Twente's race.

On Thursday morning, Michigan was in fourth place behind Vattenfall -- a seven-time champion of past World Solar Challenges. Vattenfall's battery caught fire as racing began, and Michigan snagged third place behind the Agoria and Tokai University solar teams.

Michigan solar team members gather around Electrum deep in the outback. (Photo: Joseph Xu/Michigan Engineering)

As the team prepares to return to Ann Arbor, one team member reflected on his experience.

"I don't know if I'll ever experience this again in my life, graduation certainly won't come close," Matt Karls, the race mechanical engineer and materials science senior, said in a statement. "I think this is the crown jewel of my life so far and I wouldn't have it any other way except for maybe one more day of it."

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About the Author:

Meredith Bruckner

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.