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Iron Lions reveal what it takes to win solar challenge

The glory of winning two national championships is all in the details.

That’s the lesson Greenville ISD students learned when preparing for the National Solar Car Challenge held recently at Texas Motor Speedway. Greenville’s Iron Lions team designed two solar cars that beat out competitors from all over the country and even as far away as Canada and Brazil.

Meticulous engineering is critical to maximizing both speed and efficiency, said Solar Car Sponsor Joel Pitts, who worked with students on designing and building the cars.

“The competition starts off with scrutineering,” Pitts said. “That’s when judges scrutinize our engineering techniques to make sure that the car is safe to drive and able to complete the race.”

After winning first place in the classic division last year, the team had high hopes for another win this year. Those high hopes skyrocketed when they not only placed first in the classic division for the second year in a row, but also placed first in the electric division. The Iron Lions are the first team in five years to win two divisions in the same year.

“In both divisions, both of our cars topped the mileage charts each day of the competition, which was shocking to us,” said Solar Car Sponsor George Kroncke. “What we achieved was a huge accomplishment.”

Throughout the four-day competition, the team slowly began to realize that this was going to be special year.

“Both of our presentation teams in each division received the max amount of points during scrutineering. That was a great start to the competition for us,” said Pitts.

“When our electric car, Regulus, started lapping everybody on the first day, including our classic car, the Iron Lion III, we really knew something big was coming,” added Solar Car team member, and GHS graduating senior, Rachel Royall.

Going into the classic race, the Iron Lion III was the fastest car in the division, topping the mileage charts each day, winning all four Day Trophies awarded.

“Day one, Iron Lion III, put up the most mileage of the day across all three divisions, including advanced, where cars are equipped with lithium batteries and have an hour and a half more time on the track,” Solar Car Sponsor Lucas Kiowski said. “It really put our accomplishments into perspective.”

While the Iron Lion III was sweeping the classic division, Regulus was wowing judges in the electric division. During the race in the electric division, the team left the judges speechless with their efficiency and speed during battery exchanges.

“Whenever we did our first battery exchange, and everyone saw us finish in about 10 seconds, the look on their faces was priceless,” said Royall.

“Jacob Hunnicutt worked really hard to streamline the battery exchange process to enhance our overall speed,” said Kiowski. “It gave us a huge competitive edge. We gained about one lap every time we had a battery exchange because of how quickly we could do it.”

Regulus averaged about 27 miles per hour for the duration of the race, easily breaking the records of past whose cars that averaged about 20 miles per hour.

In addition to national titles in both the classic and electric divisions, several team members earned awards. GHS graduating seniors Jacob Hunnicutt, Ty White and Matthew Claude received the Marks Award, a scholarship awarded to students who “embody the spirit of Solar Car.” The Iron Lions also received the Chris Jones Sportsmanship Award for the third consecutive year for their willingness to lend a helping hand to others.

With a crop of talented underclassmen and knowledgeable seniors, the future of the Solar Car program at Greenville High School looks bright.

“The seniors really took the underclassmen under their wings, which gives us a very promising future for the program,” Pitts said. As students come and go, the knowledge and experience they leave behind serve as the blueprints for the program, keeping the solar car legacy alive.