SOLAR cars arrive in Tulsa

Wednesday, July 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The University of Missouri-Rolla had an hour advantage as a solar car race traveling along Historic Route 66 made a pit stop in Tulsa.

Some of the teams competing in the American Solar Challenge took a 30-minute break from the race at the Tulsa Air and Space Center on Tuesday. Others were scheduled to roll into the Tulsa Wednesday morning.

Through the stopping point, the University of Missouri-Rolla was leading the field of 28 college teams, with the University of Michigan about an hour behind. No teams from Oklahoma were entered.

The solar car race, which runs from Chicago to Clairmont, Calif., is one of two solar car races passing through Tulsa this week. The 2001 Winston Solar Challenge for high school teams, will stop and display cars at the Tulsa Air and Space Center on Friday.

The team representing Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, knew what terrain driver Brett Chmiel would encounter, having driven it before to map out all the hills. Such knowledge helps determine the amount of energy it takes their car to go up those hills and can be an important part of the strategy, Chmiel said.

Since all the cars are similar in construction, having a strategy is important. As of Tuesday's stop, Queen's University was about 7 1/2 hours behind in total elapsed time.

Chmiel's teammates are driving ahead and behind him in vans. They radio Chmiel to tell him how many amperes to use going up a certain hill so they make maximum time, but still have enough energy for the next hill.

The cars have flat tops filled with solar cells. The cells convert sunlight into energy, which is stored in a battery that powers the car.

Despite being able to reach speeds up to 70 mph and being a more energy- and cost-efficient automobile, the solar car will most likely continue to be an anomaly, said Adrian Wong, Chmiel's teammate.

``From a practical standpoint, we probably won't see a solar vehicle for the next 25 years,'' he said. ``But when people see them driving across the country, they start imagining what else solar energy can be used for.''