Topeka Solar Rally

June 03, 2003

Photo of solar-powered cars lined up at the beginning of the Formula Sun Grand Prix on May 16th in Topeka.
(Credit: Kansas Corporation Commission)

The capital of Kansas becomes the solar center of North America in the middle of May when it hosts the Formula Sun Grand Prix and the Solar BikeRayce USA. At these events, dozens of high school and college teams assemble in Topeka to race their custom-built electric vehicles powered by solar photovoltaic (PV) cells.

The first race, which took place on May 14 - 16, was the Formula Sun Grand Prix where teams of university students race full-size PV cars. The winner completes the most number of laps in the course of the three-day event. The winning team from the University of Minnesota completed 365 laps of the 2.1-mile course for a total of 767 miles. This race also serves as a qualifier for the 2,300-mile American Solar Challenge in July. The team from Kansas State University was first to qualify for the Challenge by completing 140 miles in a car covered with 1,300 solar cells that supply power to a lithium ion battery. For more information about the Kansas State team, see article by J.R. Mendoza the May 15th issue of The Topeka Capitol Journal.

The Solar BikeRayce took place on May 18th and featured 35 teams of high school students racing electric bicycles and small cars powered by PV cells. California's Los Altos High School won this event completing the course at an average speed of 25 miles per hour (mph) over the 63-mile (100-kilometer) course. Kansas' Concordia High School won the sprint contest by clocking the fastest speed at 53.2 mph.

Both events are sponsored by the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) since 1993 and this year took place in Heartland Park in Topeka. The races were part of a larger series of events featuring solar energy cosponsored by KCC, including a workshop held on May 15th for energy professionals and local building code officials and a fair open to the public on May 17th in Heartland Park.