Polytechnique students getting ready to race almost 2,000 km in solar car

The Estaban 10. (Photo courtesy the Esteban Solar Car Project)

Etienne Bedard is one of the masterminds behind the Esteban 10 — the latest in a long line of solar cars designed by a project team at the Polytechnique Montreal.

“It’s challenging to build a car using someone else’s design,” he said.

Because of COVID-19, the design of the car took an extra year, meaning Bedard was taking the mechanical lead with a project he didn’t begin.

“Usually, to design a car it takes two years. But we’ve done it in three, because of COVID — we didn’t have access to the facility,” said Patricia Ionescu, the student handling the aerodynamic design of the Esteban 10.

Typically, the Esteban project competes in a North American event held in Texas called the Solar Car Challenge, however, due to the pandemic the team is running its entry on an equivalent-sized course that forms a loop in the Gaspé.

That course promises to become challenging in the Charlevoix region, where a steep grade can sap five per cent of the car’s power in just 10 minutes.

“It’s important we don’t use too much energy and that our battery’s so low that it’s at the point where it might overheat,” Ionescu said.

The car differs from previous solar cars made through the project in that it can take a driver and a passenger, making it ideal for endurance events (think the solar version of 24 Hours of LeMans).

But it’s hardly comfortable — its only air conditioning is two holes on the sides and much of the group’s success will depend on factors out of their control.

“It will really depend on the weather,” Bedard said. “Fortunately, we won’t drive as long (in one sitting) as we would while we’re in Texas."

On a closed race track the car has reached a top speed of 92 km/h. It is made of carbon fibre and many of the panels can be changed out in case of damage. In fact, given the state of the province’s roads, that’s another challenge they’re bracing for.

“It will be very different [with] the kinds of roads we’re going to encounter, but, hopefully, it will be able to handle those types of roads,” Ionescu said. “And we don’t hit any potholes.”

The car launches from the start of its eight-day course in Repentigny on Saturday.

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