Thanks, Nigel, for those two excellent guest posts! Now back to regular programming…
I have been thinking: How exactly does one win the World Solar Challenge? There are of course many, many factors. But here are three important ones that I can see:
Don’t decide to build a solar car
Instead, decide to build, test, and race a solar car. Those last two steps should not be afterthoughts. In particular, testing and race preparation take time – serious time. The top teams will generally run some kind of simulated race before the real thing, and will typically reconnoitre the Darwin–Adelaide route ahead of time as well (usually in reverse). Several teams are doing that this year.
Don’t start a club
By that I mean a group of like-minded individuals. Instead, what you need is a team – one with a diverse range of expertise. For example, in 2013, Team Nuon included a wide range of skills, including engineering, operations research, race strategy, media, and PR.
A successful team needs the right leader, and it also needs appropriate team-building activities to help mould members into a true team. This needs to happen at the start of car design, but also at the end of construction. Even if exactly the same people are involved, the “build team” and the “race team” are different teams, because they are structured differently. Several of the less-experienced WSC 2015 teams have reported interpersonal frictions that revealed themselves during early road testing. These are things that need to be resolved before the race!
Don’t re-invent the wheel
First time around, mistakes are always made. So learn from those who participated in previous races – either from team alumni (this post by Michigan highlights the importance of team continuity) or (for new teams) from teams elsewhere. Some new teams this year seem to have done that quite well, judging by some excellent first-time-around designs.