seal  Purdue News

June 26, 2003

Purdue solar team to compete in cross-country race

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A team of Purdue University students, racing a car they built from scratch, will compete in this year's American Solar Challenge, a cross-country competition in mid-July that traverses the Rocky Mountains.

Kevin Darkes
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"Unlike some of the other teams, we designed and built almost every component of the car," said Kevin Darkes, a senior in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and vice president of Purdue Solar Racing, a student organization founded to build and race solar cars and to promote environmentally friendly technologies.

Darkes is one of about 30 Purdue students on the team.

"The American Solar Challenge is arguably the most difficult solar car race in the world," he said. "I think it's a wonderful experience. It's quite competitive. Many teams put a lot of time, money and energy into the race. It's really an advanced engineering project."

About 30 teams are expected to compete in the race, stretching 2,300 miles from Chicago to Claremont, Calif., from July 13-23. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, it is the longest solar car race in the world and was held for the first time two years ago.

Students began working on the solar car in the spring of 2001. The slender vehicle is 16 feet long and weighs about 620 pounds.

"The body and the chassis are both made of composite materials, and the suspension system is mostly aluminum," Darkes said.

The car contains 650 photovoltaic cells, which turn sunlight into electricity and generate about 900 watts of power to charge a battery the size of four car batteries. The battery runs an electric motor attached to one of the rear wheels of the vehicle, which will average about 35 miles per hour during the race.

"The motor has a peak output of 10 horsepower, but normally during the race we are averaging less than one horsepower," Darkes said.

The students paid special attention to aerodynamics, and the car's slippery design may provide an edge for the Purdue team.

"But there is no one thing that will enable you to win the race," Darkes said. "The car has to have a good mechanical system and good aerodynamics and a good electrical system before it will really be able to perform well."

The Purdue team includes undergraduate students from a wide range of engineering and technology fields, including aeronautical, mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as electrical engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology.

"It's pretty evenly distributed among seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshman," said Bryan Cripe, a senior from Huntington, Ind., majoring in mechanical engineering technology and president of Purdue Solar Racing. "We are only losing one or two members this year to graduation, so it looks like we'll also have a strong team next year."

Having a team of students with diverse specialties made it possible to design and build the car from scratch.

"Some teams will outsource various components, such as the body and the solar array, but we built the vast majority of our car," Darkes said. "I think that's something to be proud of.

"The project gives the students a lot of engineering experience about working in teams and taking a design project all the way from start to finish. "

The team has about 30 corporate sponsors and also has received some financial help from the university, "not to mention the incredible facilities and equipment we get to use at Purdue," Darkes said.

A list of team members, sponsors and other information about the Purdue solar car is available at

This is the first year a team from Purdue has entered the American Solar Challenge, but Purdue teams have entered other solar-car races in the past.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709;

Sources: Kevin Darkes, (765) 494-9277, or

Bryan Cripe, (765) 494-9277, or


Kevin Darkes, a senior in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, works on a new solar car that Purdue students will race in July in the American Solar Challenge, the longest solar-car race in the world. The sleek, composite body contains about 650 solar cells. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at

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