Sasol Race Report #7

Here are the results for the Sasol Solar Challenge in South Africa, as at day 7 out of 8 (click to zoom). The photo is from here (taken on day 6). The big news is the penalty of 117.4 km imposed on Nuon when a sick team member dropped their bag in the wrong van. The kilometres subtracted by the penalty are marked with light orange in the chart above, and move Nuon down to 2nd place. In my view, it reflects poorly on Tokai that they made a formal complaint about this incident, and it reflects poorly on the Sasol Solar Challenge that they imposed such a large penalty.

Nuon has some excellent videos about the race (Dutch with English subtitles) for day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5, day 6, and day 7.


A Day in the Life of Nuon Solar Team

This blog post is something a little different: it will use the GPS tracker data feed to describe a day in the life of Nuon Solar Team during the Sasol Solar Challenge. Specifically, it will describe Wednesday 26 September, which Nuon’s media team summarised in this 90-second video:

Wednesday 26 September (day 5 of the race) opened in Graaff-Reinet. On the Tuesday, Nuon had fallen 36 km behind Japanese team Tokai, due to electrical problems. The support engineers began work at 4:00 AM to return their car Nuna to tip-top condition. The morning was chilly, but sunny, which allowed some solar recharging of the batteries.

The plan for the day, as outlined in this livestream by media team-member Bianca Koppen, was to drive to the control stop in Jansenville faster than Tokai. At Jansenville there was an optional 65-km “loop” to Klipplaat and back. The plan was to drive this “loop” six times (Tokai was expected to do so only five times) and then continue to the end-of-day stop in Port Elizabeth, arriving there just before 5:00 PM. In line with this plan, Nuna sets off at around 85 km/h, soon overtaking Tokai:

The chart below (click to zoom) shows the progress of the day. The horizontal axis is distance, and the vertical axis of the main chart is the speed of the solar car. Underneath the main chart is an elevation plot. The letter A marks the start for the day.

The letter B marks the control stop at Jansenville, where Nuna initially stops for 30 minutes (as per the regulations; later stops will only be 5 minutes). Nuna then continues to the small town of Klipplaat, where the route simply loops and returns along the same road (see the map). However, the road to Klipplaat is uphill, and from Klipplaat is downhill. As the chart above shows, the shiny new “intelligent cruise control” adjusts the car’s speed to suit, running more slowly while climbing.

Point C on the chart is interesting. A few minutes into the 4th Jansenville–Klipplaat leg (shortly after noon), Nuon’s strategy team decides that the plan isn’t going to work. Either because of the weather, or the state of the car (I don’t know the reason), they decide that they will only drive five loops today, not six. The whole plan for the day is recalculated, so as to still get to Port Elizabeth just before 5:00 PM (but having used less energy). Instead of peaking around 87 km/h, the next two loops only peak around 70 km/h. The strategy team in the mission control (chase) vehicle must have been working furiously on this plan. On the chart, there is a sudden slow-down at 12:05 PM, but the new driving pattern is established just a few minutes after that. A good strategy team is critical to winning a race!

Point D on the chart marks the last stop in Jansenville, around 2:10 PM:

Race regulation 6.1 requires that a driver can operate the car for at most 2 hours. Given the distance to Port Elizabeth, Nuna stops briefly for a driver change at around 3:45 PM, shortly after this photograph was taken (point E on the chart):

And just before 5:00 PM, Nuna indeed reaches Port Elizabeth. After some more repair work, taking advantage of the energy saved during today’s run, and as the result of teamwork and skill, the plan to drive one more loop than Tokai succeeds the next day.

Of course, much more goes on during a typical day than this story suggests. People are feed and housed. Sick team-members are looked after. Media reports are produced. Nuna, go, go, go!