The Ouston Solar Challenge

Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUEM) is the UK’s premier solar racing team. After previous participation in 2015 and 2017, they came 14th at the 2019 World Solar Challenge, crossing Australia from the Timor Sea to the Spencer Gulf on solar power alone. As with all the other major solar car teams, I have followed their progress with keen interest.

The iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC) is one of the world’s top four solar car events, as well as being valuable training for teams intending to go to the World Solar Challenge (see my extensive coverage of iESC). The main part of the iESC is a tough 24-hour endurance race at Circuit Zolder. DUEM naturally wanted to participate this September. When the Covid situation prevented them from doing so, they decided to run their own event – a kind of “virtual iESC” – synchronised with the Zolder race. To my knowledge, they are the only team in the world to have done something like that.

 
Left: Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUEM) wth their car Ortus at the 2019 World Solar Challenge; Right: I watched DUEM race this year via social media – this is the closest I can get to Durham in these difficult times (both photos mine). Click images to zoom.

The location chosen by DUEM was Ouston Airfield, a former World War II airfield about 50 km north of Durham University. The NW quadrant of the airfield was used as a racetrack between 1959 and 1964 (the airfield now houses Albemarle Barracks). To mimic the 4.011 km track at Circuit Zolder, DUEM planned out a 4.5 km course at Ouston mixing straights and tight turns (runway 04/22, part of runway 14/32, and the eastern perimeter track). However, examining Ouston Airfield on Google Maps reveals weeds springing up through cracks in the tarmac. Not perhaps the best place to drive a solar car, you might think! To make matters worse, while Zolder had bright sunshine and blue skies this year, Ouston had cloudy skies and overnight rain.

 
Left: DUEM and Ortus at Ouston (DUEM photo); Right: A concrete pillbox at Ouston reflects its former RAF identity (photo: Dean Allison). Click images to zoom.

So how did DUEM do? They clocked up 414 km, which is equivalent to 103 laps at Circuit Zolder. Given the weather conditions, we should be comparing their performance to the rainy 2018 iESC event. They would have ranked 8th in the Challenger class at Zolder that year, which isn’t too shabby, considering the seven flat tyres DUEM experienced as a result of the bumpy road surface at Ouston.

However, the iESC isn’t just about showing what one’s solar car can do – it is very much also a training event, giving newly recruited novices experience in many different aspects of solar racing. One such aspect is in fact dealing with less-than-ideal road surfaces. The highway south from Darwin incorporates some tricky features such as cattle grids, and solar vehicles must be robust enough to take such features in their stride. DUEM’s “Ouston Solar Challenge” probably provided better training in this regard than the iESC does.

 
Left: Nuna9 crosses a cattle grid in the 2017 World Solar Challenge (photo: Jorrit Lousberg); Right: the challenge of the track surface at Ouston (detail of DUEM photo). Click images to zoom.

As well as making cars robust enough to resist vibration due to the road surface, there are also procedural factors associated with “nasties” on the road. Vanguard/scout subteams must check for issues such as dead kangaroos on the road, either dealing with them or notifying the subteam in the escort vehicle. That subteam, in turn, must keep the solar car driver informed of hazards as they come up. At Ouston, DUEM marked hazards on the track with traffic cones, and their escort vehicle did a superb job of instructing the solar-car driver by radio on dealing with the hazards. Again, this is an aspect of solar racing not really tested at iESC.

 
Left: Twente’s 2019 escort vehicle (photo: Patrick Ooms); Right: DUEM’s escort vehicle guides Ortus through the hazards (detail of DUEM photo). Click images to zoom.

One activity common to the international family of solar car teams (whether at iESC, the World Solar Challenge, or during DUEM’s 24 hours at Ouston) is the need to work on the car from time to time. DUEM, like the teams that raced at iESC, has (I’m sure) learned valuable lessons from doing so. Of course, iESC offered the luxury of pit boxes, which were rather lacking at Ouston.

 
Left: Twente does a rapid motor replacement at iESC 2020 (photo: Martina Ketelaar/Andreas Kajim/Solar Team Twente); Right: DUEM works on Ortus in the rain (DUEM photo). Click images to zoom.

I am not entirely certain what DUEM will be doing with the experience they gained at Ouston, but you can follow their progress on their website or on their social media (click on the icons):       


Board game taxonomies

I am a huge fan of board games, as I am sure my readers have realised. So today, I would like to introduce a simple taxonomy.

Abstract combat games

For the moment, I will focus attention on 2-player abstract combat games like Chess (rather than games which are primarily race games, like Backgammon). I include games based on blocking as well as games based on capture, but not games played with dice, such as Daldøs or Chaturaji.

The first question is: are the pieces of one player all the same at the start of play? For games in the top half of the chart, like Checkers (Draughts), the answer is Yes; for games in the bottom half (like Chess), the answer is No.

A slightly different question is: is the collection of initial pieces of one player identical to that of the other player? For most games (in the left half), the answer is Yes; for games in the right half, like Fox & Geese or the obscure Nosferatu (where one side has “pawns” and a “king”), the answer is No.

A third question is: do the initial pieces remain the same during play? For games in the outer columns, like Go, the answer is Yes; for games in the centre half (games with piece promotion, like Checkers and Chess), the answer is No.

For games not illustrated, one can add Alquerque or Surakarta or Five Field Kono or Gomoku to Mū Tōrere and Go; Chaturanga to Chess; Tiger & Goats (Bagh-Chal) or Asalto or Hnefatafl to Fox & Geese; and the rather odd Owlman to Nosferatu.

Race Games

I now turn to race games, played on a track with dice and/or cards as a random element, where players race to reach the end. The game of Chaturaji has sometimes been seen as an intermediate between race games and the abstract combat games we have just looked at.

The first question is: how many pieces does a player have? For games in the top half of the second chart (like Backgammon or Ludo), the answer is Several; for games in the bottom half (like Snakes & Ladders), the answer is Only one (in which case the sole piece is really a token or meeple). This last category is really boring, unless it is supplemented with other game elements, such as the question cards of Trivial Pursuit.

A rather different question is: are pieces captured during play? For most games (in the left half), the answer is No; for running-fight games in the right half (like Daldøs or Fang den Hut), the answer is Yes.

A third question is: how many players are there? For games in the outer columns, like Backgammon, the answer is Two; for games in the centre half (like Snakes & Ladders or Ludo), the answer is Several.

For games not illustrated, one can add the Royal Game of Ur or Ludus duodecim scriptorum to Backgammon and Senet. As in the previous chart, the top left corner is the most popular.


September 22 is Hobbit Day

Back in 2013, I posted about a fascinating study from the University of Bristol, describing some climate modelling of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The accompanying paper (credited to “Radagast the Brown”) is also available in Elvish. I thought that I would revisit the idea for Hobbit Day (September 22, the shared birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins).


Predicted temperatures in Middle-earth, from the Bristol study

In the model, predicted temperature and rainfall for The Shire are, not surprisingly, similar to those of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire in the UK or the area around Dunedin in New Zealand (annual average temperatures of around 7°C and annual rainfalls of around 61 cm). Mordor, on the other hand, is warmer and drier, with a climate similar to that of Los Angeles, western Texas, or Alice Springs. As the authors of the paper so eloquently put it:

The authors also predict vegetation to go with the predicted climate. They suggest extensive tree cover, which we know from the book and the film is not quite correct (and I can confirm that from my own visit to Rohan, many years ago). Happy Hobbit Day!


Me, at Edoras in Rohan


European Solar Challenge: Results (2)

This will be the second of two posts on the results of the just-completed iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC), following on from this post.

To begin with, consider this chart of lap counts over time (using the same colours as the previous charts). Problems, recharges, and even (if you look closely) driver changes are clearly visible (click to zoom). The dotted red line shows the champion performance of Solar Team Twente in 2016, surpassed by 5 cars this year. The dotted blue line shows the fastest Cruiser, Bochum’s 2013 PowerCore SunCruiser, in that same race (bear in mind, though, that it drove with no passengers, while this year both Stella Era and Stella Vie ran with 3 passengers each!). Particularly notable is the Belgian decision to allow BluePoint only one recharge stop (the sunny weather and the superb efficiency of the car made that feasible).

This chart shows the calculation of the final scores, incorporating points for most laps, for dynamic parcour timing, and for fastest lap. The left-hand coloured bars (total scores) are each the sum of the other bars of the same colour. So Agoria 1st, Twente 2nd, and Top Dutch 3rd:

Scoring in the Cruiser class was simplified to be based on laps, but with bonus laps for the dynamic parcour timing and fastest lap won by Stella Vie. Nevertheless, Stella Era still won: Eindhoven 1st and 2nd. I won’t include a chart for that.


European Solar Challenge: Results (1)

This will be the first of two posts on the results of the just-completed iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC). If anyone doubted that BluePoint is the fastest solar car in the world, Agoria Solar Team from Belgium proved them wrong. In 24 hours, they drove almost the distance from Darwin to Alice Springs on the very challenging Zolder track (click the image to zoom):

All five of the top cars broke the record set by Solar Team Twente in the 2016 race.

After some battles for the fastest-lap title, Top Dutch won that, reprising their performance in the 2019 World Solar challenge qualifier (the Covestro Sonnenwagen from Sonnenwagen Aachen came second, and Stella Vie from Solar Team Eindhoven third):

I also looked at lap time distributions (I have re-done this analysis since I posted on social media, using the official laptimes rather than my sample). The data includes time spent in the pits, so I drew an arbitrary cutoff at 600 seconds (10 minutes) for a lap. The histogram below shows these lap time distributions. Note the very consistent driving speed of the two Belgian subteams, driving BluePoint and Punch 2. Equally consistent was RED Shift, driven by experienced alumni of Solar Team Twente:

The chart below shows the same data temporally (with an 8-minute cutoff this time). The two fast laps by Top Dutch can be seen, as can the fast lap by the Covestro Sonnenwagen. Car problems show up clearly in this view, as does the consistent driving of the Belgians:


European Solar Challenge: Dynamic Parcour

The iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC) is ongoing. All cars have passed scrutineering, either yesterday or this morning, and all but SER got some test laps in this morning as well.

Today (Friday) saw the rather nail-biting “dynamic parcour,” which counts for 22.2% of the final score (and which at times came down to milliseconds!). Results are shown above (stars mark Cruiser-class cars), and some snapshots below (click to zoom). Well done, Green Lightning!

Credits: 1. RED Shift shows how it’s done; 2. Spotting Stella Era; 3. The winning driver; 4. Aachen’s Covestro Sonnenwagen begins its run (notice the timing device on the side of the car).


European Solar Challenge: Thursday morning

In the iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC), scrutineering will take place today (Thursday), followed by the “dynamic parcour” tomorrow (Friday) and the main 24-hour track race on the weekend.

Because of Covid, the iESC is not open to the public. Fortunately, there is a plethora of technology options for following the race remotely:

Here are some snapshots from Zolder (click to zoom):

Credits: 1. Aachen settles in at Zolder, 2. SER heads out on a 700-km drive early on Thursday, 3. Agoria prepares for scrutineering, 4. aerial photograph by Circuit Zolder.


European Solar Challenge: the teams arrive

Below (click to zoom) is my final chart of cars for the 24-hour iLumen European Solar Challenge to be held at Circuit Zolder in Belgium on 18–20 September (all car photographs except the Swiss one are mine, taken at WSC). Turkish team ITU have made it to Belgium, I am happy to say, so I’ve added them back to the chart.

Agoria, Aachen, Eindhoven, Top Dutch, Twente, and ITU are already at Circuit Zolder (as at the end of the day). SER plan to travel very early on Thursday. Durham is not attending, but in the “solar car family” spirit, will run their personal 24-hour race in the UK. The weather for Zolder is looking good, but with a chance of a tiny bit of rain on Sunday.

Agoria will do a live Q&A on their Facebook on Friday 18:45 (17:45 in London; 12:45 in New York; Sat 02:45 in Sydney), as well as a live start on Saturday 12:55 (11:55 in London; 06:55 in New York; 20:55 in Sydney). Zolder will provide a live tracker.


European Solar Challenge: the details

This page has been duplicated from here, to ensure a permanent record.

Here is a list of the 11 cars (from 5 countries; 9 Challengers and 2 Cruisers, not including Durham) attending the iLumen European Solar Challenge at Circuit Zolder located along the Albert Canal in Belgium (roughly in the centre of the triangle formed by the nearby cities of Leuven, Eindhoven, and Aachen). The race will still go ahead on 18–20 September, although with new coronavirus safety rules (e.g. no spectators). See also this Belgian travel page and this Belgian Covid page.

Pre-race scrutineering begins on the 17th. The 24-hour track race starts at 13:00 on the 19th, with sunset at 19:43 that evening and sunrise at 07:23 the next morning, and with the race continuing until 13:00 on the 20th. The race begins with a Le Mans-style start. The track is 4.011 km long.

For fans at home interested in the weather, check the forecast. Also, at the top of this page is a webcam nearby, looking west, towards the Zolder racetrack. This webcam is at the track itself (with a view of the “Kleine Chicane,” looking roughly north from just about the centre of the track).

The regulations are much as for 2018 (6 m2 panels are allowed, as is night-time external charging). Scoring has changed somewhat, with a “dynamic parcour” on the 18th replacing the chicane, and Cruisers being scored on a combination of straight lap counts and a variant of WSC-style energy scoring. In a late change, there will be no team presentations.

My reports on the 2018 event are Report 1 (chicane timing), Report 2 (lap counts), and Report 3 (final results). For this year, follow the official race news feed and also social media at        (click on the icons). Circuit Zolder also has their own social media, which might be of interest:    

BE  Agoria Solar Team / KU Leuven (1) 

Asymmetric challenger (BluePoint) – this Belgian team is now sponsored by Agoria. They won the 2019 World Solar Challenge, and have added a new motor to their winning car. They will be racing at iESC, at Sasol in February 2021, and at WSC in October 2021. Their base is 47 km from Zolder by road, and Agoria uses Zolder as their test track.

Previously, Agoria came 6th at WSC 13; came 5th at WSC 15; came 3rd at WSC 17; won WSC 19; came 3rd at Abu Dhabi 15; came 2nd at iESC 16; came 6th at iESC 18; and won Carrera Solar Atacama 18. Their team number (8) is a long-standing tradition.

 
Left: Anthony Dekker / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

BE  Agoria Solar Team / KU Leuven (2) 

Asymmetric challenger (Punch 2) – Agoria is also racing their 2017 car at iESC. This is the car that won the Carrera Solar Atacama in 2018, but it now has a new cockpit.

 
Left: Anthony Dekker / Right: credit (click images to zoom)

DE  Sonnenwagen Aachen (1) 

Monohull challenger (Covestro Sonnenwagen) – this team did very well in the World Solar Challenge, in spite of being blown off the road. The car has since been repaired. There will be a live feed from the car on YouTube during the race. Their base is 73 km from Zolder by road, making them the third-closest team to the track.

Previously, Aachen participated at WSC 17; came 6th at WSC 19; and came 3rd at iESC 18. Their team number (70) is the number they raced with in 2017.

 
Left: credit / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

DE  Sonnenwagen Aachen (2) 

Asymmetric challenger (Huawei Sonnenwagen) – Aachen are also racing their 2017 car.

 
Left: credit / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

NL  Solar Team Twente (1) 

Asymmetric challenger (RED E) – their tiny, beautiful GaAs catamaran RED E was badly damaged by a wind gust at the World Solar Challenge but now has been repaired. It will be raced at Zolder by the next edition of the team, as one of their first actions. Their base is 248 km from Zolder by road. See their iESC team profile here.

Previously, Twente came 3rd at WSC 13; came 2nd at WSC 15; came 5th at WSC 17; came 17th at WSC 19; won iESC 16; and came 1st and 2nd at iESC 18. Their team number (21) is a pun and a wish for success in the race (“Twente-One”).

 
Left: credit / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

NL  Solar Team Twente (2) 

Asymmetric challenger (RED Shift) – Twente is also racing their 2017 car at iESC.

 
Left: Anthony Dekker / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

NL  Solar Team Eindhoven (1) 

Four-seat cruiser (Stella Era) – their most recent car has many cool features and a range of 1200 km. Their base is 63 km from Zolder by road, making them the second-closest team to the track.

Previously, Eindhoven won the WSC 13 Cruiser class; won the WSC 15 Cruiser class; won the WSC 17 Cruiser class; won the WSC 19 Cruiser class; and came 7th in the iESC 18 Cruiser class. Their team number (40) is the Eindhoven telephone area code.

 
Left: Anthony Dekker / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

NL  Solar Team Eindhoven (2) 

Five-seat cruiser (Stella Vie) – Eindhoven is also, it seems, racing their 2017 car, Stella Vie (although she apparently “will remain in the garage” if it rains).

 
Left: Anthony Dekker / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

NL  Top Dutch Solar Racing 

Monohull challenger (Green Lightning) – I declared this team “best new team” in Australia. Their car has four-wheel steering at low speed and two-wheel steering at high speed. They have been test-driving at the TT circuit in Assen. Their base is about 330 km from Zolder by road.

Previously, Top Dutch came 4th at WSC 19.

 
Left: credit / Right: Anthony Dekker (click images to zoom)

CH  Solar Energy Racers 

Symmetric challenger (SER-2) – they raced their SER-3 in South Africa and Australia. However, their older SER-2 (with a 6 m2 array) is legal under the regulations, and they are racing that here (with several modifications and improvements). Their base is about 700 km from Zolder by road, making them the second-furthest team from the track. See their iESC team profile here.

Previously, SER came 5th at WSC 13; came 15th at WSC 19; came 2nd at ASC 16; came 11th at Abu Dhabi 15; came 3rd at SASOL 18; and came 8th at iESC 16.

 
Left: credit / Right: credit (click images to zoom)

TR  Istanbul Technical University (ITU) 

Challenger (B.O.W.) – “B.O.W.” stands for “Bees On Wheels,” from the ITU logo. This is B.O.W.’s last race, and the car has been getting some pre-iESC testing. Their base is about 2,610 km from Zolder by road, making them the furthest team from the track. See their iESC team profile here.

Previously, ITU came 17th at WSC 13; participated at WSC 17; and came 7th at iESC 16.

 
Left: Anthony Dekker / Right: credit (click images to zoom)

GB  Durham University 

Asymmetric challenger (Ortus) – Durham are the UK’s premier team. They have been upgrading their car after racing in Australia in 2019. They are one of the few teams to report a CdA value (0.107 for Ortus). Breaking news: Durham have withdrawn from iESC2020 and are not attending, but they are running their own synchronised 24-hour race at Ouston Airfield.

Previously, Durham came 27th at WSC 15; participated at WSC 17; and came 14th at WSC 19. Their purple colour derives from the medieval status of Durham as an autonomous county palatine, ruled by a bishop.

 
Left: credit / Right: credit (click images to zoom)

This page last updated 00:41 on 17 September 2020 AEST.


European Solar Challenge: update #3

Below (click to zoom) is my latest guess at the field of cars for the 24-hour iLumen European Solar Challenge to be held at Circuit Zolder in Belgium on 18–20 September (Durham has, sadly, withdrawn from the event). All car photographs except the Swiss one are mine (taken at WSC). See this page for team details and further iESC information.

In other sad news, we might see some rain during the race. One a more positive note, most teams have been getting in some driver practice.

Below are some pictures from recent social media of five teams (use the picture above to identify teams):

Breaking news: in a sad turn of events, Bochum are out of the Cruiser class, as are Lodz. This leaves only Eindhoven in the Cruiser class. See the current teams list here.