Led by Battle Mountain, Vail Valley teams again dominate state Solar Roller race
- Battle Mountain High School
- Walking Mountains Science Center
- Summit High School
Rally Around the Sun Endurance Race — Main Event
- Battle Mountain High School — 210 Laps
- Walking Mountains Science Center — 206 Laps
- Basalt High School — 170 Laps
Fastest Lap: Walking Mountains Science Center — 11.8 Seconds
Battle Mountain Team Members
- Joe Shoun (lead technician, lead driver)
- Ryan Mach (lead 3D designer and engineer)
- Beckett Hyde (president of TSA)
- Andrew Shoun (technician and driver for car 2)
- Logan Turmel (head of 3D printing)
- Andrew Friery (technician)
- John Wolniak (technician)
- James Cica (head of 3D printing)
- John Wolniak (backup technician)
- Daniel Lewandowski, coach
Walking Mountains Science Center Team Members
- Josh Marion, Battle Mountain, junior
- Aynsley Gehman, Battle Mountain, junior
- Marina LeVarn, Battle Mountain, junior
- Tom Allen, Battle Mountain, junior
- Jake Allen, Battle Mountain, junior
- Deagen Fahrney, Battle Mountain, junior
- Ferguson St. John, Eagle Valley, freshman
- Grace Symanski, Eagle Valley, freshman
- Connor Chalberg, Eagle Valley, freshman
- William Austin, Eagle Valley, sophomore
- Jordan O'Neil, Eagle Valley, junior
- Coaches: Dustin Hall, Paul Leininger
EDWARDS — Glory is fleeting if you’re a star high school athlete. If you’re smart, though, people ask you to be smart forever.
Take Battle Mountain High School’s Solar Roller team. The students who make up the team just won the school’s third state title — two in three years. Team members are headed to prestigious engineering schools to create things that will save the world, clearing hurdles of a more universally beneficial sort.
Solar Rollers is a high school energy education program. Teams design, build and race high-performance solar-powered radio-controlled cars.
Teams compete in a series of races; the main event is a 60-minute endurance race after limited solar charging. Students are also grilled on their knowledge of solar power and the energy systems that make their cars run.
Battle Mountain was this year’s state title winner. Walking Mountains Science Center’s team was second, and Summit High School’s team finished third.
Solar Roller racing in 3D
Like many racing teams, Battle Mountain entered two Solar Roller cars. The first is a carbon fiber car. The other is the competition’s first 3D-printed solar race car, the idea of faculty sponsor and coach Daniel Lewandowski.
This is not your father’s model car.
Because racing is as much art as science, Battle Mountain’s team is proud of a five-gallon bucket packed full of teachable moments — plastic printed stuff they messed up but learned from, so they got it right the next time or the time after that.
The team started last October when Ryan Mach began learning the 3D design program.
“We were learning the program as we went,” said Beckett Hyde, president of Battle Mountain’s Technology Student Association.
The TSA is an after-school club, so the kids are there on their own time. Designing and 3D printing took a long time for obvious reasons. No one had ever done anything like it before.
That meant some late nights. Like the time Hyde gave a Ted Talk for TEDxYouth@Vail, then came back to the lab to help work on the car. The team members decided they were hungry, so at 9:30 p.m. they devoured the Ted Talk group’s leftover bagels. It was one of the few marathon sessions that they didn’t eat Wendy’s, the fast food joint right up the street.
High tech is dandy, but low tech works too. Race day was approaching and the solar panels didn’t quite fit the 3D printed car. So Battle Mountain went with a low tech solution — files and saws to make everything fit.
Because Battle Mountain has competed seven times in the Solar Roller competition and won three, students knew that to win they had to finish a race. Cars get jostled and banged. Like any other version of natural selection, the weak are selected against.
“Some teams decided to build lightweight cars,” Battle Mountain’s James Cica said.
When the banging and jostling began on the track, the weight-conscious cars snapped like crackers.
Don’t be in a bunch
Most teams tended to behave like packs and herds, standing together in one trackside spot. But Battle Mountain’s team members spaced themselves out around the track, waiting for something to go wrong with their cars. When it did they fixed it, jumping on it like a NASCAR crew. The track was on Elitch Gardens’ parking lot and it shredded tires, so everyone had an ample supply of tires and other solar roller car parts. Everyone also had a roll of duct tape, because duct tape fixes almost anything, including wires that worked themselves loose and were dragging on the track at an average of 30 kph.
There was the time in the one-hour endurance race that the team’s car was knocked backward. Driver Joe Shoun drove backwards for a lap and a half, did a 180-degree J turn and stayed in the lead.
“It looked like something out of the movie ‘Baby Driver,’” Hyde said.
Shoun drove Battle Mountain to victory in the science-based race while sporting a Flat Earth Society baseball cap. The irony was lost on a few, but not many.
Shoun is a senior, and this was his fourth and final Solar Roller race.
“We’re all learning from the master,” Hyde said.
Shoun is headed for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University this fall to major in aerospace engineering and hang out with people as smart as he is.
Like most scientists, Battle Mountain’s team is constantly tinkering.
“We’re always thinking about how we can make it better,” Hyde said.
Like most good teachers and coaches, Lewandowski tends to come up with initial ideas and lets his team bring them to life, like printing a 3D car. That won the Battle Mountain team this year’s coveted Innovation Award.
They don’t get there by themselves. A Solar Roller car kit costs $2,500. The bus ride to the competition is another $500, plus hotels in Denver because it’s a two-day event. Heidi B. Palmer-Ficking has been a generous sponsor for all seven years. They could use a few more, Lewandowski said.
The Walking Mountains team is a valleywide collaboration — six students from Battle Mountain and six from Eagle Valley, says coach Dustin Hall.
They began building the Walking Mountains car on Jan. 15, meeting once a week.
“We learned more about teamwork than we did about cars. If a car breaks, do not become frustrated. Do what’s needed and get it back out there,” Hall said.
Walking Mountains had this year’s fastest lap at 11.8 seconds.
Scores are compiled from five races and the 20-question test. Walking Mountains was second in Rally Around the Sun, the one-hour endurance race.
“You start with your battery empty, charge it using only the solar panels, then you race for an hour,” Hall said.
Electronic trackers on the cars count the laps. If you crash, you’re done. If your battery dies, you’re done.
Except … as long as the sun shines, Solar Roller racers are never done.
A local attorney said he sees similarities between last week’s chairlift death of a New Jersey man, and a case he won against Vail Resorts 20 years ago.