Enter on an aerial shot above waves of grain. A narrator speaks in low, dramatic tones: “Principia is a small liberal arts college in Elsah, Illinois. Despite finite resources, they have become a serious contender for this year’s race.”
So begins Episode 1 of Solar Chariots, the six-episode web docuseries. Produced by Million Stories, Solar Chariots chronicles the 2022 American Solar Challenge, the cross-country race billed as “the ultimate test of endurance and collaboration.”
While traversing over 1,400 miles following the Oregon Trail from Independence, MO to Twin Falls, ID, Principia College’s RA XI overcame setbacks—including a crash with the chase van that necessitated an overnight replacement of the entire solar array—and stunned the field, besting much larger universities, including the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Kentucky, and University of Illinois, to take a very close second place to repeat winner M.I.T.
Along the way, Principia became the unexpected darling of the series, demonstrating its signature combination of grit, collaboration, ingenuity, and buoyancy.
“Some teams come in that have good teamwork and no car at all. And then some teams come in with no teamwork and the best car—they won’t be successful. Technical challenges can be overcome, so it’s teamwork,” explains chief electrical inspector, Steve McMullen.
The close-knit camaraderie of Principia’s team is on display throughout the series, as team members smile and support each other. “I feel excitement around us, I feel giddy;” exclaims Chris Strong, one of RA XI’s drivers, at the start of the race. “We’re a small team—only 400 students at Principia—but we got first place at [the qualifying race], and we know we can do it.”
Principia’s Solar Car team takes to the road again for the 2023 American Solar Challenge in Topeka, Kansas on June 30–July 2!