Miss. solar car team ready for Australia competition

Published 2:05 am Sunday, September 23, 2007

Houston High School’s Sundancer race team has boxed up its solar car in a crate for shipment to Australia and the World Solar Challenge.

“The car is sealed up in a wooden box for customs,” said team director Keith Reese. “We will be carrying it Monday to the FedEx terminal in Memphis, and I will leave Tuesday and arrive with the car in Sydney.”

Once in Australia, the crate will be loaded onto a flatbed truck that Reese will drive more than 4,000 miles to the race’s starting line in Darwin in the Northern Territory. It’ll take awhile to get there.

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“Of course, you can’t drive at night because of the kangaroos,” Reese said.

Students and chaperones are scheduled to leave on Oct. 12.

Leigh Springer, a recent Houston High School graduate, has permission from Itawamba Community College to join her former teammates down under.

“I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be really different over there,” said the 18-year-old, who in July helped race the Sundancer to its seventh national title in the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge, which ran from Texas to New York state.

The Sundancer’s track record made the team eligible to compete in the Australian race, which costs about $150,000, raised through sponsorships and grants.

The eight-day Australian race, which Springer said was almost “a straight shot from the top of the continent to the bottom of the continent,” starts Oct. 21, and will end in Adelaide. Officials have said more than 40 teams from around the world are entered.

Reese said the challenge is the Sundancer’s second appearance in the world event. In 2003, Houston was the only high school team to compete but had some difficulty against university and corporate-sponsored teams.

“Four years ago the winner was there in two and a half days,” he said. “It took us about nine days to even stay in the race.”

He said an equally aggressive course this year includes dust devils called willie willies, heavy truck traffic called road trains and the kangaroos.

“Our goal is to finish the race,” Reese said, “even if it’s last place.”

On the Net:

World Solar Challenge, http://www.wsc.org.au