Formula Sun Grand Prix back at Topeka's Heartland Motorsports Park from Tuesday to Friday

·3 min read
The Formula Sun Grand Prix will take place in Topeka from Tuesday to Friday.
The Formula Sun Grand Prix will take place in Topeka from Tuesday to Friday.

The American Solar Challenge started in 1990 as a result of General Motor's Sunraycer solar car winning the first World Solar Challenge in 1987.

That eventually turned into a collegiate-based race here in the United States, having teams of students design, build and race solar powered vehicles.

From Tuesday to Friday, the Formula Sun Grand Prix, the qualifier for the ASC, will take place at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka.

Formula Sun Grand Prix

Illinois State competed with this solar car in a previous year.
Illinois State competed with this solar car in a previous year.

On Friday, the 21 collegiate teams from the United States and Canada began the scrutineering process, which is a series of inspections that each solar car has to pass before it can get on the track.

There are more than 90 pages of regulations for building the car from a fairness and safety perspective.

That process will take place until Monday, with the FSGP taking place on the 2.5-mile road course track on from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday.

The three, eight-hour racing days serve as the qualifier for the ASC. Participants must meet the minimum required total distance of 205 miles if achieved in one day or 308 miles if achieved in two consecutive days.

Additionally, each driver must obtain the minimum number of valid laps. The minimum required total distance per driver is 53 miles.

Single-occupant vehicles and multi-occupant vehicles will compete.

Appalachian State competed in an earlier year with this solar car. The cars and crews will be available to see and talk to at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka from Tuesday to Friday.
Appalachian State competed in an earlier year with this solar car. The cars and crews will be available to see and talk to at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka from Tuesday to Friday.

"That's been really unique for a lot of people to see like, 'OK, solar cars can be a two-seater or a four seater car and be transporting people,'" said FSGP event director Gail Lueck. "And those cars also get judged on some practical features. So those are the cars that may have some cupholders, they may have an infotainment system in the car and you know creature comforts that can kind of give the public the idea that, 'Oh, maybe this is something that gets worked towards in the future.'"

The event is free to the public to watch the cars go around the track. In the morning and evening hours, the solar cars will be charging on the paddock, and people can walk up to the cars, take pictures and talk with the team members.

From 2000 to 2005, the FSGP was held in Topeka. It made its return last year.

"The current ownership was very interested in having us back," said Lueck. "They came on as one of our sponsors. We're very happy to have a relationship back with Heartland Motorsports Park and Kansas."

American Solar Challenge

The American Solar Challenge began in 1990 with Sunrayce USA.
The American Solar Challenge began in 1990 with Sunrayce USA.

When teams sign up for the FSGP, they register for the track event or the track and road event. The road event is contingent on qualifying for the ASC.

The ASC is a road rally-style event, traveling the Oregon National Historic Trail in a distance-based format that has optional challenge loops along the way for more mileage and the ability to show off what their solar-powered vehicle can do.

If cars pass the scrutineering and qualification process in Topeka; Kentucky, MIT, Cal-Berkeley, Iowa State, Illinois State, Illinois, Principia, Minnesota, Polytechnic Montreal, ETC and Appalachian State will all be competing in the ASC that starts in Independence, Mo., on July 9 and ends in Idaho on July 16.

"If you're a newer team or less-experienced team, sometimes the solar car teams (don't want to) bite off more than they can chew," said Lueck on teams that might not choose to try and qualify for the ASC. "They want to get the experience at the track. Going on the road is obviously more expensive.

"It adds an additional 10 plus days on the road time and renting all of your support vehicles to accompany the solar car on the route, and so it is a little bit more involved with more steps."

The winner will go home with a trophy and bragging rights, as well as a traveling trophy that they'll have to bring back with them next year.

Contact Seth Kinker at skinker@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @SethKinker

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: American Solar Challenge qualifier takes place in Topeka