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Giving Our Car a ‘Time-Out’ as Race Time Approaches

Hmmm… Aren’t we on Spring Break?

It is 6:00am Saturday, the first day of Spring Break for the Saint Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team. As I walk out the door a blast of 10°F  (-12°C) air strikes me in the face. This won’t be a good day to test the vehicles! Ah, Spring in Minnesota.

After a quick stop for donuts (students need energy to be creative!) I arrive at school. Big surprise, I’m the only person there! The first couple of hours are spent answering emails, ordering last minute supplies, and going through the “to do” list for the day.  One of the things I have learned over time is that much more gets done if a “plan o’ the day” is in place. After I’ve already consumed three cups of coffee, the first students stumble into my room with hairstyles that could only be done by Mr. Pillow.  It was time to get to work!

When we last left our story, we were convinced that the prototype car would go smoothly and the urban concept car would be fraught with peril. How wrong we were! As the team was going through the rules, double-checking we comply, the 6-meter turning radius reared its ugly head. “No problem,” one student says.  Famous last words….

A quick circle is set up in the cafeteria (the maintenance crew at our school has always been very supportive!) and the small, carbon prototype sets off.  After a few modifications the car made the circle. “We should check it with the body on,” our student director suggests. Failure! The car isn’t even close to making the 12-meter circle. This is a huge problem that will ultimately lead to some drastic measures.

While our prototype car is sitting in “time-out,” our urban concept vehicle is slowly getting finished. Lights and turn signals are in, suitcase door is cut and installed, and the frame is back up on wheels. While all of the mechanical systems of the car are installed for the final time our electric team is hustling to finish a very complicated monitor/management system. With Pandaboards (on-board computers) and touch screens in each car, the driver and pit crew will (or hopes to!) have up-to-the second data during each efficiency attempt. It looks very complicated, but they assure me that it will work. To say I’m a little skeptical is an understatement! Let’s hope it isn’t our Achilles Heel on our “Road to Houston.”