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HIBBING -- Three Hibbing graduates have taken their goal of promoting alternative energy to the road. Dean Sheldon, Dan Gregorich and Chuck Solberg, all University of North Dakota students, along with their teammates, finished 24th out of 30 team...

HIBBING -- Three Hibbing graduates have taken their goal of promoting alternative energy to the road.
Dean Sheldon, Dan Gregorich and Chuck Solberg, all University of North Dakota students, along with their teammates, finished 24th out of 30 teams in the 2001 American Solar Challenge with their solar-powered car, the Subzero3.
The 10-day race, which runs from Chicago, Ill., to Claremont, Calif., is the longest solar car race in the world.
Gregorich said UND got started working on a solar car in 1996 after two guys were surfing the Web and found a site detailing the SunRayce. They began work on the car.
This was also the freshman year for Gregorich and Sheldon. Gregorich said he got involved right away.
"The seniors were doing the design work, and as freshmen, we were the peons," he said with a laugh. "They'd tell us, 'Sand this,' and we did it."
The team designed, built and raced North Dakota's first solar powered car, dubbed Subzero for the cold storm that hit when the team left for the kickoff meeting, from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs in SunRayce 1997, the race Web site, www.formulasun.org , says.
Subzero2 qualified for SunRayce 1999 in the 10th position, but a storm shorted out the leads over the course of the race. With some modification, Subzero2.5 was brought to Topeka, Kan., to compete in the inaugural Formula Sun Grand Prix.
With some redesign work, the car hit its current incarnation.
The students working on the car were divided into three teams: suspension and wheels, where Sheldon worked; body and aerodynamics, where Gregorich and Solberg worked; and the power system.
The teams worked with many space-age materials, including fiberlam for the suspension systems. Fiberlam, Gregorich explained, is a premade board made of fiberglass and Kevlar. It's lightweight and strong -- nearly 40 times the strength of steel.
The body and aerodynamics team did a lot of work with Cirrus Design companies, which sponsored the team. The company donated a lot of time for making parts for the car.
The race took Sheldon, Gregorich and Solberg down historic Route 66 for some distance, and then onto the new Route 66.
"As fragile as the cars are, we couldn't take the old routes all the time," Gregorich, the team leader, said.
A typical day of racing saw the team waking at 5 a.m. and packing up their tents. At 6 a.m., the team could retrieve its car from impound, where cars were locked up to ensure no cheating was allowed.
"We take the cars outside and on the stand to point at the sun so we can get as much power as possible," Gregorich said, noting that clouds could affect the racing day.
At 8 a.m., the cars hit the road. Strategy differed with the length of the day, number of miles and weather conditions.
The cars run between 25 and 45 mph, depending on batteries and weather.
Gregorich said they have two members of the team dedicated solely to strategy, as well as members who drive ahead and radio back what the weather is like, and members who drove ahead of the solar car so people would be aware of the cars, which sit lower than traditional cars.
The race had its rough spots for the team, Gregorich noted.
They had problems with the batteries in the beginning, which cost the team a time penalty to replace the battery.
Then in Arizona, they hit their worst problem. The wheels of the car, which are about 14 inches wide, dropped into a cattle guard set in the road.
"The car went from about 15 mph to zero in about two seconds," Gregorich said.
The bump bent the right suspension, and the team had to trailer the solar car into Barstow, Calif., where they found a shop to make a steel bracket.
The team plans to put it on the trailer and then remove it to at least cross the finish line, Gregorich said.
On Tuesday, just a day before the race was to finish, Gregorich said the team was thinking about how nice it would be to be done and "get back to a regular sleeping pattern."
But even though the race had its struggles, Gregorich said it was rewarding to demonstrate to so many people what you could do with solar power.
"So many people asked questions when we stopped or gassed up," he said. "We had the opportunity to tell them about solar energy."
That met the goal of the group -- to promote the use of alternative energy sources from the wind and the sun.

Gwen Swanson is a reporter for the Hibbing Daily Tribune, a Murphy McGinnis newspaper.

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