SPRING HILL — There was plenty of energy to fuel the small solar cars as the sun beat down in the late afternoon outside Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology. But there were other variables with which to contend.
A car veered off the track. Another lost a connection. The sixth-graders, though, were all anxious to get their homemade cars to reach the end of the track as quickly as possible.
The students were competing with team-built solar-powered cars to snag a place at the Energy Whiz Olympics, sponsored by the Florida Solar Energy Center Saturday in Cocoa. They will be part of the Junior Solar Sprint.
Ten teams were judged by how they placed in the races, time trials, car designs and portfolios. Two are heading to Cocoa Beach: Caitlin Foster and Faith Appleton, who call themselves the Party Rockers and came in first place, and Dakota Kassay and Devin McNamara, second-place winners, known as LS9.
The third-place team, Eli Silver, Anthony Crooks and Ranier Melucci (King Boo), will compete at the Cocoa Beach event in another category, the Battery Mobile Challenge. They will convert their vehicle into one that runs on a lithium ion battery.
The chance to compete was open to all sixth-graders. Besides the winners, those participated were Steely Evans and Justyn Jones (Spartans); Madison Gould and Desirae Diaz (Peanut Butter and Jelly); Matthew Tomlinson and Zachery Jones (Rogue); Vanessa Lopez, Marceddes Barrett and Darby Dehn (Permanent); Victor Dam and Chris and Robert Rebholtz (Leprechauns); Haley Greene and Glori Babler (Tigers), and Justin Koesis and Joseph Masotti (Bolts).
The students who decided to take on the challenge had different reasons.
"I just wanted to see how solar power worked," said Desirae, 12.
"I just thought it was unique and different," said Madison, 12, Desirae's Peanut Butter and Jelly partner.
"I wanted to go to Cocoa Beach, and I wanted to learn about solar and how to power a solar-powered car," said Justin, 11.
Eighth-graders Matt Myers, Chris Baker, James Beck and Sydney Wilson plan to enter the Olympics in the Energy Innovations category. They have built a full-size electric vehicle. It runs on a battery that is charged with solar energy.
"You use the energy from the cells and convert it to the battery in the car," said Sydney, 14.
"It's part ladder. It's part bike. It's part drill," said sixth- through eighth-grade science teacher Josh Leonard.
The students call it the Wattrod. A lot of it is made from recycled, discarded items.
The sixth-grade solar sprint preparation and competition was overseen by field activity program coordinator James Kaufmann. The eighth-graders and their electric car were assisted by Leonard, and the event was supervised by curriculum and instruction director Joseph Gatti.