JUSTIN — A team from Argyle’s Liberty Christian School set out on a trip across the country Tuesday in a solar car traveling at about 35 mph.
The team is one of 14 — half of which hail from Texas — competing in the 20th annual Solar Car Challenge, an 884-mile, eight-day trek from a Northwest school district parking lot in Justin to Exposition Park in Los Angeles. The teams will travel back roads, no interstates, the entire trip.
“We’re excited for the adventure and to see how things work in a cross-country race,” said Brent Dragoo, a team coach and Liberty Christian science teacher. “This is definitely history-making for our school. We’ve never taken on an endeavor quite this large before.”
Family and friends, who traveled to Justin to wish the team well, could be heard cheering as the Liberty Christian solar car took a left turn onto State Highway 114 heading west Tuesday.
For the next week — in rally style — teams will hit the road beginning at 9 a.m., Liberty Christian officials say, with solar cars being released for racing every two minutes. The teams are expected to rest Friday in El Paso.
The Solar Car Challenge was created in 1993 “to motivate students in science and engineering, and alternative energy awareness,” according to its website. Through the challenge, students learn how to design, engineer and construct solar cars that are raced in a closed-track event at Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway or events cross country.
Traveling with the team from Liberty Christian are 10 students — six of whom will take turns driving the solar car — and three teachers. The students are required to have a driver’s license to drive the car.
The solar car, sponsored by CoServ Electric, is traveling with a caravan that includes a lead vehicle, a 24-foot box truck that pulls a trailer, and a recreational vehicle that alerts motorists that the caravan is ahead with a sign reading “Caution Solar Car Ahead.”
Liberty Christian’s car, named Solis Bellator — which Dragoo said is Latin for “warrior of the sun” — is 15 feet long, 5 feet wide and weighs more than 900 pounds. The three-wheeled vehicle has a 48-volt motor and five solar panels that put out about 250 watts each.
The team has spent the last two years constructing the current model. Last year, according to school officials, students built the car’s frame and chassis using chromoly and aluminum. Beginning last September, students reworked the batteries, motor and solar panels and reconfigured the car’s wiring in an effort to reduce weight and increase speed, Dragoo said.
He estimates that costs totaled between $18,000 and $20,000.
Since establishing the Liberty Christian Solar Car Team seven years ago, four cars have been built.
The Liberty Christian team has competed in four previous Solar Car Challenge events at Texas Motor Speedway, but this is the first long-distance road trip.
“We’re hoping we get fifth place or better,” said Brandon Allison, a team driver. “If we get fifth place, that will be really rewarding.”
Allison, an incoming senior, said this year’s Solar Car Challenge is something the team has worked toward the last eight months. He plans to keep a journal about the trip for a college essay.
Driver Shelby Dragoo — the team’s only female member — said she’s confident about the race and looks forward to seeing the finish line.
“I’m really excited for it,” said Shelby Dragoo, an incoming senior. “I think it’s going to be really fun.”
On Sunday morning, two days before the start of the race, the team took its solar car to a garage in the infield at Texas Motor Speedway. There, in a two-day process called “Scrutineering,” an engineering safety check took place, with judges quizzing teams about their vehicles and how they were constructed.
Before the car is deemed fit for the road, it also undergoes brake testing, electrical testing, a stability test — in which drivers are required to weave through cones — and other examinations.
Throughout the two days the team made adjustments to its car.
Up until almost the last minute, Liberty Christian’s team was making finishing touches on lighting and wiring before heading to the starting line.
Those adjustments, Brent Dragoo said, are teaching students life lessons and about overcoming issues and how to adapt.
“I have a bunch of good kids,” he said. “It’s just awesome to watch how their mind thinks ... the problem-solving process. Bottom line, every day is an awesome experience around here.”
Among the challenges the team could face are clouds, which drain the battery power on the vehicle.
The Liberty Christian team traveled more than 60 miles in the car Tuesday before loading it onto a trailer and transporting it to Snyder. The competing teams are expected to travel more than 200 miles to Carlsbad, N.M., today.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.
ON THE WEB
For more information about the Solar Car Challenge, visit www.solarcarchallenge.org .