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Podium finish for University of Calgary's solar car team at the Formula Sun Grand Prix

Montreal and Monaco may have Formula 1 but a group of enterprising University of Calgary students have Formula Sun.

That's because a group of Calgary students brought home a third place trophy in the Multi-Occupant Vehicle Class at the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Kansas, losing out to Polytechnique Montreal, with the University of Minnesota team finishing second.

Some of the brightest students in North America gathered at the Heartland Motorsports Park in Kansas to see whose solar powered vehicle would perform the best. Justine Lohmann,  the Calgary team's assistant communications manager, said it has an 18 year history competing.

"For a lot of us it was our first race and so we were coming in knowing that we had a strong car, but we didn't know how we would stack up against the other teams," she said. "So being there, being in the race environment and the stress and all the pressure to be able to perform and return to the podium was really, really exciting for all of us."


Their two seater is called the Schulich Elysia and is the fifth generation solar car for the team. It was completed in 2019 and won its class that year. The pandemic put a halt to the project however,  resulting in the vehicle being locked up for two years, allowing American teams with fewer COVID-19 restrictions to catch up.

"COVID really hurt our team," said Colton Giesbrecht, energy storage lead. "Because we were stuck out of our shop for so long, that it's hard to motivate someone when you don't know when competition is going to start so it was really hard to keep this team moving the last couple of years, but we luckily have gotten out of it now."

The team is made up of 80 passionate students from engineering, the sciences, arts and business. Only 13 made the trip to Kansas for the competition. In addition to her communications role, Lohmann also worked on race logistics, marketing, took team photos and drove the car.

"You can get into it and drive it pretty easy," said Lohmann. "But driving in a race environment is just lots and lots of fun, (the car) handles really well so you can get the tight corners and you can go really fast and so it's a lot of fun to drive."

Amy Miller is the team's electrical manager and rode along side Lohmann for many track laps in the competition. She says the group in Kansas was in constant communication with members who remained in Calgary to come up with ideas to make the vehicle more efficient.

"In Kansas it's really hot," she said. "So the arrays aren't as efficient at a higher temperature and so it's really important that you're cooling those down when you have the pit stop or taking breaks if it's just not powering the battery enough."

Giesbrecht said the car has real world potential and he would like to see one driving down the highway soon. He said essentially it's an electric vehicle but the solar energy can drive as much as three quarters of the power while it's operating so the battery range is extended.

"It's one thing learning engineering in a book but with this, you get to do that teamwork and the type of compromises you're going to do with a design and the real world doesn't work like a textbook," he said. "You're gonna just have to try things and you might be able with your engineering background know the direction you want to aim for, or be able to justify what's happening but this is the real kind of experience that you're going to need to be a successful engineer."


Alex Garza, the team captain, said the generation six car is already in the works. It's called Helios and will be a four seat sedan.

"In terms of solar cars and our ability to keep the weight low, that is a significant step," he said. "So we have to get better motors, the chassis has to be stronger, bigger batteries as well so that comes with the same challenges on its own right."

The team is looking forward designing and building its next car and competing with it.

Learn more about the program here: