Through a deeply community-driven effort, Polytechnic School participated for the first time in the 30th annual Solar Car Challenge from Fort Worth, Texas to Palmdale, California. The team consisted of 11 Upper School students and faculty mentors Craig Fletcher and Jack Prater who received support from the Upper School, Facilities, and Human Resources. The team competed and drove 200 miles, finishing second in the Classic division, before the 952-mile race was cut short due to a COVID outbreak.
“It was an unmitigated success,” said Jack Prater. “The students learned how to do great things and overcome every obstacle that got in their way. They developed so much grit and showed so much determination. Even if we hadn’t gone to the race, they proved that they had learned the most important lessons.”
The Solar Car Challenge was proposed by Aria Wang ’23, founder of the Polytechnic Engineering Club, in 2021, with much of the early planning and team building done over Zoom during remote learning due to the pandemic. During the 2022-2023 school year, the team dedicated Saturdays to making the solar car a reality with motorcycle parts donated from Eagle Rock’s Cycle Depot, welding provided by Facilities’ Cesar Angel, and an intensive download of engineering programs and software. According to Aria, just weeks before the actual race, the car encountered major engineering issues on a test run, but all was resolved and ready to go for the initial scrutineering sessions of the race. In fact, Poly breezed through the seven stations during the competition that checked the car for soundness.
“I actually knew nothing about cars when I first started this project,” shared Aria. “I didn't know what a suspension was or a disc brake or computer-aided design. I learned a lot from the past three years about building and engineering, but I would say my main takeaway from these past two years is definitely team building.”
The Solar Car Challenge was a team effort, with nine students traveling for the event. During the actual race from July 16-18, Poly’s car would navigate the path driving a minimum of 20 mph at all times with an additional trailer for steep grades with another two cars tailing. Aria, Julian Harrison ’23, Jonah Goldstein ’23, and Kai Herman ’23, all members of the Engineering Club, drove the solar car with the club’s Jeremy H. ’25 providing telemetry support about the voltage and current of the car in the tailing vehicle.
“There was no problem that they couldn’t overcome. And in the end, it all came together,” said Jack. “The entire team understood the car because they had built every aspect of it. And so when something would break, everyone understood the complexity of the problem. It was really impressive to see the whole team come together and work as a unit to resolve the issues as they arose.”
At the end of the competition, Aria was also chosen as the recipient of the Jeff Barnett's Solar Car Team Spirit Award. Her teamwork and passion for the project was noticed by the judges, specifically under the three different criteria for the award. The award recognizes a student who unselfishly supported their own team, supported the efforts of other teams at scrutineering or during the race, and represented their team with distinction.
Jack Prater reflected, "Aria created and unselfishly supported our team. She pitched the program to alumni, she announced it at graduation, she championed the idea to all within her sphere. She so firmly believed in the idea, the importance of student self efficacy, discovery and the kind of problem solving that will better our future that she inspired a community to come together and push us to a 200 mile 2nd place finish in our first appearance."
We are incredibly proud of the entire Solar Car team for their innovative spirit, resilience, and commitment to one another. We are grateful to those who generously supported our students throughout their journey. Go, Poly!