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NREL Solar Car Competition

On Saturday May 17th, middle school students from across Colorado will compete to see who has the fastest model solar car.

Englewood Middle School will field two teams at the competition.  These teams will be determined by competitions within each STEM Lab class.  The teams with the best score (see rubric file at bottom of page) in each class wins and moves on to the State competition.

This is a STUDENT COMPETITION, as such their teacher will not tell them how to make their car, but will help guide them and facilitate their learning and project development.

Below are rules, regulations, and documents to help students build their cars. (documents can be found at the very bottom of this webpage)

The Colorado competition will use preliminary time trials before progressing to a double elimination tournament for the finals. Each team will have three time trials to achieve their fastest time. Any car that does not finish in 40 seconds will be considered a Did Not Finish (DNF). Only the fastest 16 teams will progress to the double elimination tournament. In the event of a tie, to qualify for the double elimination tied teams will have a race off.

Student teams must use the unaltered solar panel and motor that were provided in the kits as the only method of powering the car. The rest of the car design and components will be up to the creativity and ingenuity of the students. Note: This is a student competition! All cars must be designed and built by the students with limited assistance from the coach, other adults, and non-team members.


 There are two different components to the Junior Solar Sprint: Speed and Design.

Speed Race:

The top 16 fastest cars after all of the timed trials are completed will compete in the final “head-to-head” race to determine first-, second-, and third-place winning teams.

Design Component:

Each car will be judged on the merits of quality craftsmanship, unique concept, and overall aesthetics, including appearance, engineering innovation, and originality of materials used.


1.  The Ray Catcher solar panel sold by Pitsco and the JSS Kit sold by Solar Made are the only solar panels that may be used. Panels cannot be shaved, drilled, or delaminated. Only the authorized Mabuchi motor supplied with the panel may be used. Motors may not be re-wound or disassembled. Any other panels and motors may not be used in the competition. All parts mentioned here must be used without modification. One solar panel and one motor are allowed per car. Reflectors, supports, and power leads may be added to these components as needed.

2.  The remainder of the vehicle must be your own design and can be made from any other material.

Vehicle Specifications:

1.  The vehicle must adhere to all parameters, be structurally sound, and safe to contestants and spectators (e.g., no sharp edges, projectiles, etc.).

      2.  Size: The vehicle must not exceed the following dimensions: 30 cm (11.8 inches) by 60 cm (23.6 inches) by 30 cm (11.8 inches).

3.  Decals: Decals of the sponsor organizations (provided at the regional competition) must be visible from the side on the body of the car. A 2 cm by 4 cm space must be left for the assigned car number.

4.  Power Source: The sun’s light is the only energy source that may be used to power the vehicle. No batteries, capacitors, flywheels, or any other storage devices are permitted.

5.  If the sun’s energy is judged insufficient, a battery pack and batteries will be furnished for each team. Motor power leads should be readily accessible for easy attachment to a battery pack.

      6.  Energy-enhancing devices, like mirrors, must be firmly attached to the vehicle.

7.  Steering: A guide wire attachment, referred to as an eyelet, must be attached to the car. Examples of possible designs are shown below. A guide wire such as a fishing line will be no more than 1.5 cm from the surface of the track, will go through the attached eyelet on the car, serving as the steering mechanism, and keeping the car in its lane. The vehicle must be easily removed from the guide wire, without disconnecting the guide wire. This is the only allowable method of steering the car. No radio control is permitted in the cars. Lane changing or crossing will result in a Did Not Finish (DNF). Those cars whose run was interfered with will be allowed an additional opportunity to run.

8.  Guide Wire: The eyelet must be used for steering only and must be directly hooked onto the guide wire. Any guide wire attachment or eyelet used should not support the vehicle such as a grooved spool located on top of the car guiding the car down the track. All wheels must be in contact with the track. The guide wire must be attached to the car throughout the course of the race. If the car disengages from the guide wire, this will result in a DNF.

9.  The solar vehicle must be structurally sound without the solar panel. The solar panel cannot be used as the chassis (body of the car). Teams are NOT allowed to bolt the axles and wheels to the solar panel—the car must be three dimensional.

Track Specifications:

1.  The race lane is 60 cm wide and 20 meters long. The track will be a black neoprene rubber material.

        2.  There will also be a repair table set up to help facilitate quick repairs to the cars. Teams that are scheduled to race in the next heat will be given priority in the repair area. There will be a  3-minute time limit for repairs.

3.  At race time, the vehicle will be placed behind the starting line with all its wheels in contact with the ground.  No more than two team members will be allowed in the start area.

     4.  An early start or push start will result in a DNF for that heat.

5.  All vehicles will be started when the official signal is given.  Each car will have three timed speed trials. The top sixteen cars with the fastest times will advance to the final competition to race for first, second, and third place.

6.  The judges will note the official time on the heat card.  If the car does not finish the race, it will be noted as a Did Not Finish (DNF) on the heat card.

7.  At least one but no more than two members must wait at the finish line to catch the vehicle.

8.  Team members may not accompany or touch the vehicle on the track. Vehicles stalled on the track may be retrieved after the end of the race has been declared by the Lead Judge.

9.  The vehicle and team member must remain at the finish line until the time of the race has been noted on the heat card.

10. Challenges must be made before the race judges begin the next heat. All challenges must come from the team members who are actively competing, not the coach, parent or coordinator and all challenges need to be directed to the lead judge. The decisions of the race judges are final.

11. Only competing students and race officials may be in the race area. All others including coaches, parents, coordinators, and non-competing students must remain in the spectator stands through the duration of the races. Teams will be disqualified if the coach interferes with the race.

     12. Judges may inspect cars at any time before, during, or after heats.

     Note: Some regional host sites may have additional rules and regulations. Please contact the host site where you plan to compete for a complete set of rules.


Awards will be given for the three fastest cars and for the three best designs.

Event Day Agenda

May 17, 2014



7:30 a.m............ Team and Volunteer Registration............... Dakota Ridge Parking Lot

7:30 a.m............ Car Inspection............................................. Dakota Ridge Parking Lot

7:30 a.m............ Car Design Judging  .................................. Dakota Ridge Parking Lot

8:00 a.m............ Team Photos............................................... Dakota Ridge Parking Lot

9:30 a.m............ Opening Ceremony................................... Parking Lot – Stage


10:00 a.m.......... Race Competition....................................... Dakota Ridge Parking Lot

11:30 – 12:30.... All Participants Lunch................................. Dakota Ridge Cafeteria

12:30 p.m.......... Race Competition....................................... Dakota Ridge Parking Lot

2:30 p.m............ Final Competition........................................ Dakota Ridge Parking Lot

TBA................... Awards Ceremony.................................... Dakota Ridge Parking 


Englewood Middle School Solar Car Project Rubric:

Scoring CriteriaHow are you graded?54321
Project Presentation GradeYour team score on the presentation counts for overall scoring (5 points for 450 points and above, etc)450-500 400-449350-399300-349<300
Race Time for Car (Best of two runs)If you finish in the top 20% of your class you score  5 points, etc80-100%60-79%40-59%20-39%0-19%
CraftsmanshipHow well constructed are the frame, gearing, wheels, etc. Poorly aligned frames, wobbly tires, skipping gears, and any loose parts will cost points

This car is constructed like a Bentley.  Everything is tight, and it runs smooth and strong (people drool at its very sight)This car is constructed like a Camaro or Mustang. Car looks good, and runs wellThis car is constructed like any standard vehicle, maybe an F-150 Pickup, nothing special but will hold together, and get the job doneThis car is constructed like a beater 1980's K-Car.  The thing ain't pretty, and runs like crap, but its yours...This car is constructed like a jalopy. What is this the Beverly Hillbillies?
Solar ArrayHow well oriented is the solar panel for light reception?

Solar panel is adjustable and is directed toward the sun for optimal performanceSolar panel is purposely directed toward the sun, but is not adjustableStatic solar panel with an orientation pretty much parallel to the groundNo points awarded hereSolar panel is actually directed away from the sun
AerodynamicsHow much thought was put into the cars ability to move through the atmosphere with the least amount of wind resistanceLooks like it has the aerodynamics of a Formula 1 race car or a FerarriLooks like it has the aerodynamics of a NASCAR stock car, or a CorvetteLooks like it has the aerodynamics of your neighbors MinivanLooks like a block on wheelsNo skin attempted, just a frame
CreativityDoes it have a cool factor?  Was thought put into a theme, or appearance?  Has an original theme that is incoporated as a main feature of the design and build of the vehicleNo points awarded hereHas an original theme that is featured on the vehiclePaint or color scheme incoporated on the skin of the vehicleNothing done to make this vehicle original, no skin, just a frame, wheels, motor, axles, and solar panel

* All ties will be broken by: 1st tie break = Best time for race, 2nd tie break = presentation grade, 3rd tie break, Rock Paper Scissors (one shoot)

Project Timeline:

William Gilmore,
Apr 22, 2014, 11:01 AM
William Gilmore,
Apr 28, 2014, 1:39 PM
William Gilmore,
Apr 28, 2014, 1:39 PM
William Gilmore,
Apr 22, 2014, 10:31 AM
William Gilmore,
Apr 16, 2014, 4:14 PM
William Gilmore,
Apr 16, 2014, 4:15 PM
William Gilmore,
Apr 16, 2014, 4:14 PM
William Gilmore,
Apr 16, 2014, 4:15 PM