See how App State makes tracks at Formula Sun Grand Prix

Meet the hearts and minds that lead Team Sunergy and learn how Appalachian State University’s solar team found a place on the podium at the Formula Sun Grand Prix. Why did we go? To build a better transportation solution. How did we place third? Sheer Mountaineer grit. Join the team, experience scrutineering, on-track qualifying and pit-stop drama. Watch the video here and think solar.


The generosity of private donors allowed Team Sunergy to design and build a high-performance solar vehicle and travel it to an international competition. In less than two years, they were holding their own in a competition that included world-renowned engineering schools. Their plans for the future include a new design that will set the standard for road-ready, commuter vehicles. Your support can make this happen!


Duvey Rudow, Assistant Project Directory/Driver: We are here, currently, at the Formula Sun Grand Prix. This is a three-day track race at Pitt International Race Complex. It's about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. There are 20 teams this year. Twenty solar vehicle teams from around the world. All collegiate teams.

Dan Blakeley, Team Leader/Driver: The Formula Sun Grand Prix serves as a qualifier. It's a three-day track event where you're just trying to complete as many laps as possible. In order to qualify, the race organizers wanted to make sure that your car is safe and can maintain a really good level of performance throughout the day. It serves as a qualifier for the Amercian Solar Challenge, and that's the bigger event that everybody is really competing for. That one is 1,975 miles and this year it is going from Akron, Ohio to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

DB: I started this project in the fall of 2013 just to get the university involved in a project that I saw married two different technologies, two different sports, together that I thought was important for North Carolinians. That was racing and sustainable technology. I can't see a better area to really invest a lot of time and a lot of effort to develop the future of transportation than solar car racing. These vehicles are the future of transportation.

Abby Hastings, Co-mechanical Director: What sets Appalachian apart from every other college here is that we are a liberal arts college. We're all coming from different majors, from the team. A lot of these colleges, it's their engineering department that's here.

Dr. Jeremy Ferrell, Faculty Advisor: We have, primarily, sustainable technology, appropriate technology, physics, engineering physics. Then we have communications and business and music industries and interior design. It's just a whole host of different majors from which people have come together for this, and they all have their contributions to make to the team.

DR: I think the way we approach the problems are fundamentally different. Engineering schools look at it and say, "How do we build a solar car?" because it's an engineering challenge for them. For us, we say, "How do we make a more efficient form of transportation?" For us, we look at it from a sustainability angle rather than as an engineering challenge.

AH: Where as we come in from a lot of different backgrounds, some of us even have some racing background. I think that's another part of us coming from North Carolina. We actually have that going for us. We are from the home of racing, so it's really great to do that proud and do Appalachian proud by promoting sustainability with this.

Andrew Grimes, Interim Business Directory: Us being here proves that you don't need to be an engineering school to attract the right minds to build a team that can do incredible things. We're focused on the ability of solar transportation to change the future and to really make a difference in reducing our carbon emissions in the future.

JF: Our students get that and they see that solar powered cars are going to be the future. That's how we're going to get ourselves from point A to point B. They have a connection that we're going to be doing solar car racing because we see the importance of making our transportation sector cleaner and using clean energy to power it.

AH: You've got to do it. There's no way to get around being sustainable anymore. It has to happen. I love being at a school where that's important and where it can happen.

AG: It's hard for me, at this point in my life, to look around and not see the waste that we're producing and to not be aware of it. To me, sustainability means not only finding a way to reduce that, but also to make our world a better place for the next generation. Hopefully they'll be driving solar cars, and they don't think about the emissions that're coming out of their car every time they're driving.

DR: The reason that what we're doing is important, is because 30% of all carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. As you push towards that, solar vehicles become more and more of an efficient option. I'm very confident in our team's chances. I don't know for certain, but I think and I hope that we're going to do well. We've got a reliable car. We've got a great team. We've got great drivers. I think that, as long as we can stay on the track, I think we've a good chance to do well in both the American Solar Challenge and the Formula Sun Gran Prix.

{After two days of racing, Appalachian's Team Sunergy found itself in a heated battle for 3rd place.}

{An emergency pit stop due to a flat tire toward the end of Day 2 cost Team Sunergy precious time and laps, suddenly knocking Appalachian out of third place and off the podium.}

{Beginning Day 3 in fourth place, up against rain and overcast skies, Team Sunergy adopted a strategy favoring consistency over speed to conserve energy and garner as many laps as possible.}

DB: So we were a little concerned that we weren't going to get up to third, but ultimately, being consistent, it brought us back up to third place so not only do we get to enjoy the podium at the awards banquet tomorrow and bring back our success to Appalachian State, but we also get to go into American Solar Challenge with our heads held high.

DB: Give me a minute.

DB: To come to en event like this after two years of countless hours of work and dedication, it's just insane to be at this place in time. You just can't describe it.

Team: One. Two Three. App State.

{After a week of competing in their first American Solar Challenge, Appalachian's Team Sunergy finished in 6th place.}

{A group of students that began with a vision for the future became a team, and created a car that traveled nearly 2,000 miles powered by nothing but the sun.}


Web work by Pete Montaldi and Derek Wycoff. Video production by Garrett Ford. Photography by Marie Freeman, with additional images by Bailey Winecoff and Dr. Lee Ball. Audio production by Dave Blanks. Writing by Megan Hayes and Elisabeth Wall. Art by Jim Fleri. Editing by Linda Coutant. Logistics management by Stephanie Naoum. Technical support by Wes Craig. Creative direction and executive production by Troy Tuttle.

Special thanks to Dr. Lee Ball and Dr. Jeremy Ferrell for the context, history and on-site updates.

Shoutout to the Principia College and Iowa State University for the support, mentorship and parts you generously provided to Team Sunergy.

Very special thanks to Andrew Grimes, and every member of Team Sunergy. You are an inspiration.