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Seventh Annual Sunday Challenge

24 February 1999

Cocoa, FL-- Time will tell. The beginning of the 21st Century is over one and half years away. For those of you caught up in the millennium craze the century does not officially end until December 31, 2000. Never the less, for those of you who cannot wait to get a peek at the future of automobiles then a trip to Cocoa, FL should have been on your "to do" list.

The 7th Annual SunDay Challenge sponsored by the Florida Solar Energy Center was the event for futurists. Forty-four alternative fueled vehicles were entered by various organizations. The attendees were hardly "locals." Teams traveled from Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Florida to compete in this now prestigious event.

Informally started in 1991 by Bill Young and a group of like-minded engineers the Sunday Challenge was created in 1993 as a small gathering of "electric-outlets" and "solar-heads" as some engineers in the business like to refer to themselves. The event is now open to all "alternative" fueled vehicles. This year the rally course from Cocoa to Walt Disney World Speedway was supposed to be led by GM's EV1 as the pace car. Unfortunately the required police escort for the vehicle did not materialize. GM has spent a lot of money on the project and the desire to protect it's investment is predictable.

None the less the rally from Cocoa to Walt Disney World proceeded. There were cars powered by solar, natural gas, hybrid electric and hydrogen. There was even one car that was powered by distilled soybean. The whole mission statement as defined by Mr.Young "is to educate the public that the alternative sources of energy can perform as well as the current cars available."

Perhaps the most encouraging news out of the whole gathering, aside from the on-going research, is that several of the entries were developed and built by high-school students. Two of those high school students, Greg Gill and Matt Cohinga of Byron Center, MI have their sights locked firmly on the future. Their entry, in the Electrathon class, is powered by two deep cycle marine batteries. The importance of the vehicle was not so much the power-plant as the lightweight design. The entire one-person vehicle weighs around 120 pounds and is designed more for testing aerodynamics, endurance as well as the alternative energy source. Greg Gill wants to become an electrical engineer when he goes to college. Matt Cohinga would not say as much but it appears that the time spent in the racing cockpit has afflicted him with racing fever. Who knows he might be in the first "alternative fueled Indy 500." Don't laugh folks the reality of just such a race is right around the 20-25 year corner. The Formula Lightning vehicles in the event were turning laps at the one-mile Walt Disney World speedway exceeding 130 mph. The whirring and swooshing of these electric powered vehicles took some getting used to but one can clearly see the future.

Time, as the olde cliche goes, will tell.

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel