DRIVING ON SUNSHINE: Ely native places second in world race with Minnesota solar car team

The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project beat out teams from across the world after building their solar car for three years.
Published: Nov. 1, 2023 at 10:26 AM CDT
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ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA. (Northern News Now) - The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project beat out teams from across the world after building their solar car for three years.

Shane Spangler, an Ely native, has been on the solar vehicle team tasked with building a car powered by the sun, since his freshman year in college.

“There’s no engine, no transmission,” he said. “It’s just a motor hooked up to a wheel and then some power coming in from the sun and a battery.”

When he first heard about the University of Minnesota’s Solar Vehicle project, he wanted to jump into the action.

“When I discovered the solar vehicle project, in like my first week as a freshman, I was like, I have to do that,” said Spangler.

Spangler and several other dozen student engineers built the Gaia, a solar cruise car that can go about 60 miles per hour.

After winning several races in the United States, they took the team and their car to Australia to compete in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.

The race takes teams across the continent.

“Just a little over 3000 kilometers higher 1800 miles,” Spangler said.

Driving from Darwin to Adelaide, the team competed against 30 other teams from around the world.

Before making the trip halfway across the world, they had some hiccups.

“We’ve been looking for a shipping sponsor for about a year and we found it in like the last week leading up to shipping,” he said.

The speed bump got even bigger though during the race, as no cruiser team was able to finish.

“All the cruiser classes ran out of energy,” he said. “So yeah, it was kind of insane. We were all kind of disbelieving everything that was going on.”

But after all of their cars stopped running, they had a good feeling, knowing they placed highly throughout each stage of the race.

“We were feeling pretty good,” Spangler said.

His hunch was right. The team placed second in the race and even won a special award for consistently finishing races in top spots.

For Spangler, he said it was the honor of a lifetime.

“This is entirely like a worldwide event and it’s just something that I’ve never experienced before,” he said.

It’s something he’ll also never forget.

“My years of little years of work, have paid off, and many late nights and being stressed about class and solar car at the same time. It is it’s been super rewarding,” Spangler said.

For more information about the University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project, you can visit their website here.

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