Florida Poly’s pioneering solar racecar team fueled by TECO donation

Jun 05, 2024
TECO representatives visit Phoenix Racing

Florida Polytechnic University rising senior Spencer Blackwell, center, shows the chassis of the Phoenix Racing solar racecar to representatives of Tampa Electric (TECO), who are among the team’s sponsors. From left, the TECO representatives are Steven Smith, Director of Renewables; Shelly Whitworth, Manager of Renewable Energy; and Nate Alcoz, Manager of Environmental Permitting. The Phoenix Racing team will compete in a national collegiate solar racing competition in mid-July.

The Phoenix Racing team at Florida Polytechnic University received a financial boost from Tampa Electric (TECO) to support its first-ever entry into the national collegiate 2024 Formula Sun Grand Prix solar car race in mid-July.

TECO donated $7,500 in shareholder funds to the interdisciplinary student team, which has spent the last two years honing their ideas and constructing the car, making it road-ready for the competition. 

Several representatives from TECO recently visited the team to check out the car’s progress.

“Solar energy is so important to us as a company. We believe it’s part of our future,” said Julie Ward, TECO’s community investment manager. “The fact that they’re thinking about solar in different ways and the ingenuity the students are showing is impressive.”

More than a dozen members of the Florida Poly team and three faculty advisors will travel to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for the July 16-18 race at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park racetrack. 

“This contribution from TECO is going to help us with our road fees and getting up to competition, as well as food and general expenses while we’re out there,” said Spencer Blackwell, the team’s president. “They were very generous and are now our top sponsor aside from the University.” 

Other sponsors include Bridgestone Tires, Nomura Co., Mitsuba, and MWI Pumps.

Race competitors will be judged by the number of solar powered laps they can complete over 24 hours of driving time across three days. Florida Poly’s team will compete against teams from universities like MIT, Berkeley, and Michigan State.

“It just feels really great to be this close now,” Blackwell said. “We’ve all put in so much work, especially after doing the prototype cycle last year and doing the competition cycle in the same timeframe this year, so we’re looking at it now thinking, ‘Wow, this is just awesome.’”

With its rolling chassis complete, the team is now piecing together the racecar’s larger parts. 

"We only have a few components left to weld on and then we can get our body on and the skin," said Madison Ricker, a rising senior majoring in mechanical engineering. 

Ricker, who will be one of the competition drivers, said she’s thrilled to see what was once only an idea become a physical reality. 

“From it only being modeled in CAD (computer-aided design software) to being physically built is really cool and I’m really excited to drive it,” she said.

The team will soon begin testing putting the final cosmetic touches on the vehicle and testing its endurance, speed, and craftsmanship.

“I want to get into the automotive industry, so being able to actually get some hands-on experience from working from the ground up with this is absolutely mind blowing,” said Caleb Smith, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “It’s crazy to see how far we’ve come. It’s been a lot of fun and a really big learning experience.” 

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TECO and Phoenix Racing

The Phoenix Racing solar racecar team stands with representatives of Tampa Electric (TECO), one of its sponsors, beside the racecar’s chassis. From left, Nate Alcoz, TECO environmental permitting manager; Julie Ward, TECO community investment manager; Steven Smith, TECO director of renewables; Shelly Whitworth, TECO manager of renewable energy; and Phoenix Racing team members Blake Lawrence; Paul Seifert; Evan Moran; Corey Kado; Dr. Elisabeth Kames, faculty advisor and assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Eric Whittle; Mike Kalman, Florida Poly fabrication specialist; Willard Scammey; Madison Ricker; Spencer Blackwell; Caleb Smith; and Matthew Knitter.


Lydia Guzmán
Director of Communications