This year’s World Solar Challenge in Australia was apparently a bruiser. Of the 37 custom-made PV cars that participated in this year’s 1,800-mile race across the outback were besieged by brush fires, dust storms, extreme temperature swings, and more—only seven cars finished the race.
Among the top three was University of Michigan’s (UM’s) Quantum car, the 11th solar car the university has built.
Tokai University’s Tokai Challenger 2 from Japan and Nuon Solar Team’s Nuna 6 from the Netherlands beat it. The remainder of finishers, in order, were: Ashiya University, Japan; Solar Team Twente, Netherlands; Sunswift UNSW Solar Team, Australia; and Aurora, Australia.
UM has had multiple finishes in the top spots of the event.
“It’s the second time in a row finishing third. We’ve finished third five times overall,” said UM solar team spokesperson Caitlin Sadler. “We’re really proud to have finished third.”
Even finishing at all is a challenge, given that each car is custom made, mixing a delicate balance of lightness, aerodynamics, photovoltaics, batteries and power.
“It’s a really grueling race, 1,800 miles,” Sadler said. “The teams are trying to push their cars that hard. It doesn’t surprise me [that so many failed].”
This year the brush fire represented a strategic challenge for the cars.
“The brush fire did throw in a big challenge,” Sadler said. “It was the hardest on the strategist.”
The three leading teams had to stop for half a day because of the brush fires. They were all stopped when they reached the same point. Then they recharged their batteries, while the strategists figured out how to best prepare or fine tune their cars for the next day’s challenges, she said.
The cars were restarted based on their corresponding times the next day—like a stage in the Tour de France.
“It’s highly competitive. We’re really proud of the race crew; we built an amazing car,” Sandler said.
Next the car will compete in the American Solar Challenge, and then UM will start building its next car for the World Solar Challenge.
Image courtesy of UM.