This weekend, local residents might notice some new vehicles rolling through the streets of Las Vegas, but they will be unlike any seen here before. The 2021 American Solar Challenge will wrap up its five-day cross-country event in Las Vegas this weekend, giving everyone the chance to see solar cars up close and personal.
The American Solar Challenge (ASC) is a multi-day, 1,500-2,000 mile cross-country endurance rally across North America.
The event is typically held every other year during the summer and is open to collegiate level solar car teams from countries all over the world.
This year, teams from MIT, Principia, UC-Berkeley, University of Illinois, University of Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Illinois State, Appalachian State and the University of Minnesota are participating.
This year’s route began in Independence Missouri on Tuesday morning, with stops in Kansas and Colorado before arriving in Las Vegas at West Las Vegas High School throughout the day on Friday for a stage break.
Teams will then depart from West Las Vegas High School on Saturday morning for a loop through the Santa Fe Plaza before returning to Las Vegas and finishing in the Las Vegas Plaza between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday.
This year’s route will commemorate the bicentennial of the Santa Fe Trail.
The challenge is an opportunity to demonstrate the team’s solar cars under real world driving conditions and thoroughly test the reliability of all onboard systems.
Successfully completing the ASC competition is a hugely rewarding accomplishment, but it requires over a year of intense focus and hard work from every team that enters the race and there are no shortage of hurdles to overcome along the way.
Teams must first design and build a solar powered vehicle that meets every requirement set forth in the regulations.
They are required to submit vehicle design reports and other documentation to race officials prior to the event for approval.
The best teams will conduct as much testing and optimization of their vehicle as possible before the racing starts.
The American Solar Challenge originated in 1990 with Sunrayce USA, the start of organized solar car “raycing” in the United States.
Sunrayce was born as a result of GM’s Sunraycer solar car winning the first World Solar Challenge in 1987. In 2001, with a change in sponsorship also came a new name, the American Solar Challenge (ASC). ASC also brought a new format to the event, introducing multi-day stages, higher mileages, and no rest days.
In 2001 and 2003, the race route followed Historic Route 66 from Chicago to the Los Angeles area. In 2005 and 2008, two special editions of the race were held, named the North American Solar Challenge, as the route went from Texas, US to Alberta, Canada. With 10-11 day durations, 2500+ miles, and only a few stage points, teams were spread out over hundreds of miles.
Continuing under the ASC name, 2010 marked another change in the event, moving to two-day stages.
Every day, all of the teams would either start together or finish together at the same location.
This kept the solar cars closer together for interested public and media coverage while allowing for greater camaraderie among the teams.