An exhausted, but jubilant team of Montreal students is on its way home after bagging fourth place in the prestigious American Solar Challenge Monday.

A team of 18 undergraduate engineering students from Ecole Polytechnique spent 17 days driving 2,700 km from Austin to Minneapolis in their home-built Esteban VII solar vehicle to score the best-ever result of an entrant from Quebec.

“We consider this an accomplishment,” said Team Leader Gabriel Brassard. “We aimed for a top five finish and we are extremely satisfied with the result, we couldn’t have hoped for better.”

Altogether about 45 students worked on the car after the school's previous entry finished ninth in the same race two years ago.

Three drivers rotated behind the wheel at an average speed of about 75 km/h along back roads, although the vehicle slowed to about 45 km/h when the sun disappeared.

According to the rules, racers were permitted to drive between 9 a.m and 6 p.m. each day. The Esteban VII solar car is street legal, except for its lack of airbag. It rolled within a convoy of more conventional vehicles to prevent mishaps.

The team overcame a serious challenge when one of the Esteban's propelled wheels went dead early in the race, but members of the disqualified University of Berkeley team generously supplied a replacement, which allowed the Montreal entry to continue apace.

Brassard said that the positive result was largely thanks to tweaks made on the previous entry.

“We tried to get as much information as possible from the previous team and we also had a very well-rounded team with a diverse set of skills,” he said.

Twenty-one cars were present at the qualifiers but only 10 made it to the start of the race and only eight finished.

Brassard, who spoke with CTV Montreal Wednesday on the long drive back from Minnesota, said that he and his team were looking forward to some rest after sleeping only about four or five hours per night throughout the race.