Today we have a guest post from Nigel, a UK-based solar car fan. He explains why Team 12 is his favourite in the Challenger Class for this year’s World Solar Challenge. A follow-up post will give his view of the Cruiser class.
Made in England (Part 1)
Over the past few years I have written a few posts about Solar Cars and Solar races and I have always tried to follow the rules on impartiality. In any case, being from the UK which has a pretty poor record of success in the sport, it is relatively easy not to blow our own trumpet too loudly.
Therefore, if you are prepared to read further, you can be sure that as I explain my choice of favourite cars at this year’s WSC you can be sure that no jingoism is involved. Before I go any further let me be clear, these are not the cars that I am suggesting will win the event. Anything can happen in solar racing and maybe both cars are capable of completing the course but I think it would take a LOT of mishaps to other teams for either car to even get close to the top five. No, these are the cars that I like for other reasons.
My first choice, in the Challenger Class, is Evolution from the Cambridge University Eco Racing team.
There are several reasons why I like this car and the first is simple – it is not a Catamaran. In the past all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes of car have turned up at WSC and events around the world with varying levels of success. This year, however, 29 of the 30 teams in the Challenger class have brought what we now call catamarans with the only differences being where the driver sits and how many fairings they have. I do not blame the teams, clearly it is the case that cars have evolved like this because it is a design which best answers the criteria given in the rules of the event.
So, some cars will better designed, with more aerodynamic features, and some will have a better finish than others but we can be almost certain that a catamaran will win the race. That’s fine, there are lots of areas that teams can focus on to move the sport, and engineering, forward such as weight reduction, battery technology, energy efficiency and so on – but all of that is hidden from view. What we see is one catamaran after another, different colours, different teams but still catamarans.
Thank heavens for Evolution. When CUER made their car called Resolution for the 2013 running of the event it was quite a departure from the norm. The car was tiny, made possible because it used Gallium solar cells, it was bullet shaped and the array was inside the car. Ok, it was not built as well as it could have been and events proved that the design went too close to the edge of what was safe. But thankfully we still have young people who are prepared to test where the edge is, not by gradually moving closer to it but by standing on the edge and then moving backwards. This is what CUER did and Evolution is a very aptly named car.
This car is wider and lower than its predecessor and the team claims that it has the same, or better, aerodynamic performance. The centre of gravity has been lowered and moved in relation to the centre of roll. It is also much better finished than Resolution, is easier to drive and, the team claims, uses less energy. Some might claim that it is stubbornness that made this team persist with this design, I prefer to call it determination and here’s why I’m glad that they did.
Of all the cars at WSC, in any class, I believe that Evolution is closest to what is required for our future transportation needs. I actually think that this car is racing in the wrong class. There has been much talk about the rules of the Cruiser Class, particularly the scoring system, but for me the fundamental flaw in the rules is the one that defines the class – “They must be designed to carry two or more occupants.”
WHY, WHY, WHY, have this rule? The most practical car carries one person!
Let me explain, I have a wife and two adult children. We all work in different places at different times and we go out to different places so we have a car each. Our cars are made to carry a total of 19 people so, for most journeys, that’s 4 people, 4 cars and 15 spare seats. Add in my neighbours and we have 10 cars, 12 people and 39 spare seats. So, all of these extra empty seats and all of the extra metal needed to enclose then is being carted around the country day after day. What we need are small single occupant cars for the vast majority of journeys and, I believe, Evolution is closer to answering that need than Nuna8, Tokai Challenger or any other catamaran.
The organizers of WSC may not thank me for saying this but the solar part of this challenge is a gimmick. It’s a necessary gimmick – if this was the World Electric Car Challenge it would have died a death years ago – and it provides a great place for engineers to advance their knowledge but, in reality, the best place for solar cells is on the roof of your house.
Yes, the catamarans are needed to keep this fantastic event alive but they are not the future of transport. For that we need to look to EVOLUTION.