While we all endured the extreme heat in the Philadelphia area this summer, a group of Devon Preparatory School students were hoping for as much sunshine as possible in Dallas, Texas. Devon Prep’s solar car team recently took second place in the national 2012 Solar Car Challenge at the Texas Motor Speedway, and without the sunshine it could not have happened.

The team’s solar-powered car, named “Sol TIDE,” operates with four 38-pound batteries powered by five solar panels. Decorated with the school’s logo and colors of blue and gold, Sol TIDE measured 4.96 meters long, 1.65 meters wide and 1.25 meters high.

Competing against 11 teams from around the country in the Classic Division, Sol TIDE completed 270 laps and 405 miles. Its best racing speed was 44.6 mph and averaged 22.1 mph throughout the four-day event.

Last year Devon Prep was the first and onlyPennsylvaniahigh school team to compete in the Solar Car Challenge which draws teams from across theUnited StatesandPuerto Ricowho design, engineer, build and race roadworthy solar cars. Devon Prep earned fourth place in the 2011 event.

The Solar Car Club worked all year altering last year’s vehicle for this year’s race.  Their primary objective was to reduce weight and create a more efficient solar system.

Five members made the trip to Dallas but only one, junior Jacob Riedel ofPottstown, drove the car during the race.  The other team members included: juniors Chris Clayton of Phoenixville and Richie Gargano ofBroomall, sophomore Ben Conser of Audubon and freshman Soham Bharne of Trooper.

Throughout the year the team was assisted by eight additional Devon Prep students who also worked on the car: juniors Jake Kampman of Havertown, Pat Kinsella of Berwyn, Brian Koskinen of Media and Antonio Muscarella of Norristown, sophomores Will Culbertson of Wayne and Mike Horbowy of Phoenixville, and freshmen Russell Emery of Phoenixville and Nick Ippoliti of Broomall.

“Last year, our goal was to be able to complete the race and be on the track the entire time,” said team captain Jacob Riedel. “Our goal this year was to place in the top three. Many of the judges thought we had an excellent car.”

Placing in the top three turned out to be quite a challenge. Many of the other teams were veterans on the track who competed several times before. Devon Prep’s biggest competition came from the Byron Nelson Bobcats who made the race intense until the last minutes of the last day.

“I am so proud of what the boys accomplished this year,” said Eric Riedel, Devon Prep’s team advisor and Jacob’s father. “Anyone who followed us online during the event could see how hard the boys fought for every lap; and how nerve wracking it was to match wits and cars with the Bobcats.

“Our final lap (on the third day) was a master stroke of tactics and expert driving that finally gave us the extra lap we needed to secure our position for the final day, and give the team a solid hold on second over the Bobcat team,” the elder Riedel explained. “I can still remember Jacob’s voice crackling over the radio to the rest of the team in the pits, ‘Guys, guys I can make this lap!’ and he did with a minute to spare. It was an exciting time.”

It’s that excitement as well as the learning experience that the Devon Prep team members talk about when asked why they dedicate such long hours to building and racing their solar car.

“I think everyone who is part of the club should make at least one trip to the Challenge,” Jacob added. “There is nothing like working on something for a year and finally seeing what you have accomplished. The team members learned so much by competing with other teams. For me, I have learned more than I could have imaged from aerodynamics to circuitry.”

“When Jacob brought this idea to us, we all thought it was a great idea,” Richie Gargano said. “Let’s build a solar powered car — hey why not, it’s something to do. I’m a motor-head with gas-powered cars, but a solar car is a completely different thing. I learned a lot more about cars and how to make them run. When I was a little kid, me and my dad would watch NASCAR on TV. To actually be at aSpeedwaywhere it happens is really cool.”

Next year the team hopes to take Sol TIDE on the open road for the cross-country challenge fromTexastoCaliforniaand maybe even come in first. But that will depend on having enough drivers and enough funds.

In the meantime Devon Prep’s Solar Car Club is exploring other projects like building a lightweight car to enter in the Shell EcoAmericacompetition.

More than 65 schools in 20 states take part in the Solar Car Challenge, which began in 1993. The competition is designed to motivate students in science, engineering and alternative energy. Students learn how to design, engineer, build and race roadworthy solar cars.

The end product of each education cycle is the Solar Car Challenge: a closed-track event at the world famousTexasMotorSpeedway, or a cross-country event designed to give students an opportunity to show the country the product of their efforts.


Devon Prep is a private, Catholic, college preparatory school for young men in grades six through 12 conducted by the Piarist Fathers. The school, which is located on a 20-acre campus in Devon, educates nearly 300 students from the five-county Philadelphiaarea. For more information call 610-688-7337 or visit www.devonprep.com or www.facebook.com/devonprep.