Preparing for the Solar Car Challenge

Greenville High School Iron Lions solar car team members Jordan Hunnicutt, Nathaniel Higgins and Joshua Allen mount a tire on a rim Tuesday as they prepare for three rounds of scrutineering before they can compete in the Solar Car Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday.

Since Monday, the 17 young engineers, mechanics and problem solvers who make up this year’s Greenville High School Iron Lions solar car team have been tweaking their designs and fine tuning their strategy as well as practicing driving and performing routine maintenance as they prepare for this year’s Solar Car Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.

Today, the team is packing up to leave for the challenge with hopes of winning its fourth consecutive national championship, but first they must undergo the three-day-long scrutineering process Friday through Sunday to be allowed to compete Monday through Thursday.

During the scrutineering process, the team will have to pass through eight stations where judges inspect the team’s cars to make sure they meet standard in structural integrity, braking, electrical and battery requirements, the car’s ability to run for an extended period of time, and other criteria.

Throughout the scrutineering process and the oral presentation that follows the inspection, the students’ mentors are not allowed to assist in any way, so the judges can determine if the students actually designed and built the car.

“With eight stations they have to go through, it’s almost like winning just to make it through scrutineering,” assistant mentor Lucas Kiowski told the Herald-Banner. “There are teams that are unable to fix whatever they can’t pass in scrutineering, and the end up not being able to compete.

If both of the teams cars pass the rigorous scrutineering process, the team will compete in two different divisions, the electric-solar powered division and the advanced division.

For the electric-solar powered division, they will use the car, Iron Lion II, in a variety of practical, “everyday” type simulations, such as carrying a passenger and cargo. Meanwhile, for the advanced division, the team will use their most sophisticated completed car, Iron Lion III, which is designed for maximum speed and efficiency.

“Yes, the newer car is more aerodynamic and has no front suspension so we can keep the weight down so the ride’s pretty rough, but the older car is designed for urban concepts, so it rides more ‘like a Cadillac,’” said second-year team captain Logan Wood.

Despite being team captain, Wood stressed the importance of gaining experience as a team when it comes to making improvements to design and strategy.

“When I first came in as a freshman, I learned a lot from the people who had been in it longer, because they had experienced the problems that you run into,” Wood said. “You can be the smartest person in the world, but you need to have the experience of dealing with and solving problems to know what to do.”

The team’s head mentor, Joel Pitts seconded much of what Wood said about teamwork.

“There are some students in here, who outside of the team, don’t like each other, but a lot of times I don’t know about it, because they put all that aside for the project,” Pitts said proudly. “If they can do that, they can definitely succeed in any workplace.

“The students also make all the decisions in design and strategy,” he added. “Unless it’s a safety issue, then I’ll veto it, but other than that, it’s all them.

“But, the three of us mentors (Pitts, Kiowski and George Kroncke) also work to help them as a team,” Pitts added. “I couldn’t do this without them, and they’re both absolutely integral.”

Major sponsors for the Iron Lions solar car team are L3Harris, Farmers Electric Cooperative, Henley Auto Supply, The Shop Designs, Huntex Real Estate and Insurance , White Eagle Water Systems, White Hawk Machine and Tool, Purdy-McGuire, and Garcia Automotive Services.