Solar cars glide to finish line

Hundreds of Calgarians lined city streets on Tuesday to watch 15 solar-powered cars complete a 3,862-kilometre odyssey from Texas to Alberta.

Waterloo, U of C finish in top 6 out of 25 teams

University of Michigan team members run with their solar car as it crosses the finish line to win the North American Solar Challenge. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

Hundreds of Calgarians lined city streets on Tuesday to watch 15 solar-powered cars complete a 3,862-kilometre odyssey from Texas to Alberta.

Canadian teams from the University of Calgary, University of Waterloo, Queen's University and Manitoba's Red River College had been in the hunt to win the North American Solar Challenge, which started July 13.

The University of Calgary's Schulich I crosses the finish line of the North American Solar Challenge. ((Colin Hall/CBC))

But the speedy yellow entry from the University of Michigan won the race for the fifth time, nearly nine hours ahead of its closest competitor.

"This has got to be a highlight," said driver Brooke Bailey, 23, overwhelmed by the finish-line reception at the Olympic Oval.

"I couldn't believe how many people were surrounding the roads in Calgary. I had no idea so many people cared about solar car, and just the amount of people here right now, it's unbelievable. I've never had this many cameras around me."

The Midnight Sun team from the University of Waterloo was the top Canadian entry, physically crossing the finish line second, but will most likely end up in fourth place once times and penalties are calculated.

"We actually ran into rain a couple times during the races and we had to slow down to maybe 25 miles per hour [40 km/h]," said Waterloo driver Allen Mok, 19. "It was just killer."

Schulich I, the U of C's car, finished sixth in the school's second appearance in the race.

Only 15 of 25 cars made it to final leg

The course began in Plano, Texas, following Highway 75 and then the Trans-Canada Highway to the finish line in Calgary. Twenty-five cars from the U.S., Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom began the race but only 15 made it to the final leg, which started in Medicine Hat, Alta.

The Midnight Sun, the entry by the University of Waterloo team, was the top Canadian car. ((Colin Hall/CBC))

The cars averaged between 80 and 100 km/h, and the Michigan car actually got a 20-minute penalty for speeding.

"When we go downhill and when the wind hits you from the tail, it accelerates your car and we did not brake fast enough," explained Jeff Ferman, Michigan team leader.

The competition to design, build and race solar-powered cars is sponsored by automaker Toyota and is meant to promote renewable energy technologies and provide hands-on experience for students. It began in 1990.

"If a bunch of university students can build and design a solar-powered vehicle and drive it across North America, then there's definitely potential [for the technology]," said U of C spokesman Grady Semmens.

But Majeed Mohammad, a professor at the Schulich School of Engineering, said he couldn't envision solar cars becoming common in the near future without the discovery of new, cheaper and more efficient materials.