Battle Mountain students prepping for the Solar Rollers Trophy Race
EDWARDS — George Jouflas does not tinker — he designs and redesigns. Take the solar powered remote control car his Battle Mountain High School crew is building for the Solar Rollers Trophy Race. He's rebuilding the suspension to work like a Formula 1 car or Grand Prix racing motorcycle. Then, he created some kind of traction control. The team is also doing some amazing things to save weight because it's battery powered. The lighter it is, the longer and faster it will run. He isn't saying how any of this works because it's a Solar Roller race, after all, and someone has to win. "It might as well be us," he said smiling. Noah Davis runs Energetics Education, a regional nonprofit that helps young people create solutions for the world's energy issues. One way to learn that is to design, build and race solar-powered remote control race cars. Solar Rollers is their flagship program. All kinds of parts go to teams of high school kids all around the region, and the kids make the cars function. They run on sunshine for at least an hour. How much longer than that is what they'll determine later this month when they gather at Glenwood Springs High School to race, and pray that Ra the Egyptian sun god is having a good day. It turns out that the only other place doing this is technical colleges in France. When TSA means something good Daniel Lewandowski teaches technology at Battle Mountain High School and runs the school's Technology Student Association. That's where their Solar Roller crew is from. It started as an after-school program for kids who love technology. Not gamers. These are kids who can take stuff apart, which any rock-wielding troglodyte can do. They put it back together and make it work properly, or better than it did before. This is Davis's second year to lead the regional project. The first year was a success, as well as what you'd call "a character building adventure" for the four teams from four schools who competed. He procured a bunch of parts he thought should go in a solar car. Some worked, some didn't, but when the green flag dropped the cars performed admirably, racing at the national energy laboratory in Golden. This year, 10 teams from seven regional high schools will compete in the race. "It's an energy-based competition. They're trying to make the most of solar energy," Davis said. "They have to understand how it works and how to design it." The instructions are pretty simple. Cars have a solar panel to collect sunlight. The teams have design freedom, but the cars tend to look alike because Davis gives them a big box of identical parts. What they do with those parts, though, is entirely up to them. The teams show up with their cars and have 30 minutes to charge them. Then the green flag drops and they race for an hour. Like Le Mans, they trade out drivers periodically. The teams wear matching suits. Pit crew kids even have all their tools waiting for something to break. The competition is broken into five segments: A team panel quiz, photovoltaic top speed (no battery), top speed with storage (sunlight plus battery), 2 laps on the course powered only by sunlight, main circuit race consisting of 30 minutes to charge empty batteries followed by 60 minutes of circuit racing. The green flag drops on May 17 at Glenwood Springs High School.