The University of Michigan solar-car team wins the 2008 North American Solar Challenge, finishing 10 hours ahead of its nearest competitors to give U of M its fifth national championship in nine races.

The car covered the 2,400 miles (3,862 km) from Plano, TX, to Calgary, AB, Canada, in 51 hours, 41 minutes and 43 seconds, leading a 15-car field all the way with an average speed of 46.4 mph (75 km/h)

The victory is sweet because it follows a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 2007 World Solar Challenge in Australia after an early crash.

The North American Solar Challenge is a competition to design, build, and drive solar-powered cars in a cross-country time/distance rally event.

The idea is meant to inspire young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. The races generally have been held every two years since 1990, and with each event the solar cars travel faster and farther with greater reliability.

Principia College in Illinois this year finished second in 61 hours, 38 minutes and 45 seconds. Germany’s Bochum University of Applied Sciences finished third at 63 hours, 47 minutes and 55 seconds.

The University of Waterloo in Canada, University of Minnesota and University of Calgary took the next three places.

The North American Solar Challenge normally takes place every other year in the same year as the world race, but last year its sponsor backed out and the race’s future was in question until Toyota Motor Corp. took over the sponsorship.

U of M President Mary Sue Coleman says students on the university’s winning Continuum solar-car team showed teamwork and innovation are critical to success.

“They have also demonstrated the promise of alternative energy and new technologies with the championship run of their car,” she says in a statement.

U of M race manager Jeff Ferman says the car was rebuilt after the Australian race. “Many of the systems were completely redesigned. We did a lot of testing and that, coupled with a strong team, got us this far. We strived for perfection.”

The university team’s legacy is as old as solar-car racing. With its first solar car, the Sunrunner, U of M won the inaugural North American race in 1990. The Maize and Blue car finished first in 1993, M-Pulse won in 2001 and Momentum took the crown in 2005.

U of M teams have finished third in the World Solar Challenge three times: in 1990, 2001 and 2005.