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Sun Powers 31 Cars Racing 1,600 Miles into Future

July 9, 1990

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) _ Rays of sun powered wheels of thunder on 31 exotically styled cars that hit the road Monday in a 1,600-mile race.

The shiny, low-slung vehicles caused many doubletakes among motorists along U.S. 192 shortly after leaving their starting point at Walt Disney World.

All of the automobiles for the 11-day GM Sunrayce USA were designed and built by college engineering students from the United States and Canada at costs ranging from about $30,000 to more than $1 million.

The cars are powered strictly by the sun and solar-energy storage batteries.

The winner will have the lowest elapsed time over secondary roads in eight states. The race is in daily stages, with each car starting at the same point each day. It ends July 19 at the General Motors technical center outside Detroit.

GM President Bob Stempel said he hoped the race would serve as an incentive for young people to study science and engineering.

Among the entries was a pontoonlike auto with two drivers in fishbowl- shaped cockpits facing in opposite directions. That one’s from Western Washington University.

The ″Sunshine Special″ from Florida Institute of Technology features wraparound solar cells, including the bottom of the car to catch sunlight reflected off the road.

″Midnight Sun″ from the University of Waterloo-Ontario, Canada, looks like a flying saucer gliding down the highway, and the University of Texas reportedly spent more than $1 million on its 340-pound dynamo made out of carbon graphite.

Many of the entrants and officials were talking about the unique solar array on the bottom of Florida’s car, which Professor Bill Thrasher said was ″a closely guarded secret″ for almost two years.

Thrasher said tests showed that the reflected solar energy was about one- third as much as that captured from the top of the car.

The entry cost $225,000 to build. The governor’s energy office contributed $95,000, the rest came from about 40 sponsors.

The auto from Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a squat, buglike affair with only the driver’s head showing. It cost only $30,000 to build, said MIT driver Thomas Massie.

Tuesday’s leg from Floral City will end in Tallahassee, 192 miles away by the planned rural route. Wednesday, the drivers hope the cars will run 205 miles from Tallahassee to Montgomery, Ala., via Georgia.

The race is sponsored by GM, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Society of Automotive Engineers. GM and the Energy Department provided each school with $7,000 in seed money to start their projects last year.

The top two finishers and a third selected for technological innovation will be sent by GM to compete in the 1990 World Solar Challenge in Australia.

″We want to encourage students to pursue science and engineering in the future,″ said Stempel.

The other states along the route are Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

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