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New Car, New Race: Clarkson Solar Knights To Compete In 2001 American Tour De Sol Race

Clarkson University's solar racing team is changing gears.

After participating in the biennial Sunrayce for the past decade, the Solar Knights are participating the annual American Tour de Sol Race May 19-26.

The Solar Knights will race in the solar-electric division, driving a 1984 Honda CRX that will be converted to race specifications. The car gets its fuel, in part, from the sun.

We are entering in a category in which we have experience, says Eric F. Thacher, executive officer and associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, and the team's adviser. "This race provides the solar car team with an opportunity to build cars that are close to those being made for practical use and powered by the latest solar technology."

Thacher explains that the team's CRX is a lot like solar cars of the past, with a solar array, batteries and a motor. The difference, however, is in style. "It's a stock vehicle that has been turned into a solar-assisted, battery-operated car," he says. "The other difference is that it is 50 percent heavier than a solar car."

At a time of high gas prices, automakers are looking to offer environment-friendly cars that operate on alternative sources of fuel. The car's design is quite relevant to those plans, according to Thacher.

There are considerable differences between the American Tour de Sol and the now-defunct Sunrayce:

First, unlike Sunrayce, which uses a nationwide course, the Tour course is in the northeastern part of the U.S. The first leg of the 2001 race begins on May 19 in Waterbury, Conn., and ends in Pittsfield, Mass. Subsequent legs will take competitors to Albany, N.Y.; Greenfield, Mass.; and Worcester, Mass., before finishing in Boston on May 26.

Second, while cars in Sunrayce were sandwiched between a lead and chase vehicle, American Tour de Sol cars are under no such restrictions. They must run no slower than 10 m.p.h. below the posted speed limit and are simply part of the traffic stream, making for higher average racing speed than in Sunrayce.

Third, while most Sunrayce stages lasted 100 miles or more, the average daily run in the Tour is only about 50 miles.

The Solar Knights are backed by sponsorship from Corning, Inc., Mahoney's Auto Mall in Potsdam and SPEED (Student Projects for Engineering Experience and Design), a Clarkson-based program, which promotes project-based learning opportunities through 15 team project activities including U.S. FIRST Robotics, the Formula SAE Racing Car, and the Clean Snowmobile and Environmental Remediation competitions.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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