Dunsfold Solar Car Takeover

The Ardingly, Durham, and Cambridge cars, with the retired 747s on display at Dunsfold in the background (credit: Ardingly)

On 26th September, the 4 active UK solar car teams (see this illustrated list) got together at Dunsfold Aerodrome, site for the BBC television series Top Gear. The teams are:

The University of Nottingham team have previous experience with their sister project in the Formula Student competition. Their solar car is still being completed, but they showed off their racing car, Frankie (credit: UoN team)

During the day, the three solar cars ran slaloms and figure eights, and exchanged experiences in a spirit of friendly competition.

DUEM’s Ortus from the chase car (credit: DUEM)

At a time when Covid prevented the UK teams from participating in International competitions, this event did much to keep the solar car spirit alive, so I am glad that DUEM organised it.

Three solar cars and four teams (credit: DUEM)

Solar cars in the UK

Here is a list of 4 active UK solar car teams. On 26th September, Durham has invited all the UK teams to a friendly track race at Dunsfold Aerodrome, site for the BBC television series Top Gear. A sort of “Top Solar Gear,” I guess.

A retired 747-200, registration G-BDXJ, parked at Dunsfold Aerodrome – so it will be true to say that the solar cars will be faster than the 747.

20  GB  Durham University Electric Motorsport 

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). They displayed great initiative by running their own Ouston Solar Challenge when Covid-19 prevented their travel to iESC 2020. They are currently engaged in a Solar Tour of the UK as an outreach activity, concluding with the Dunsfold event.

Previously, Durham came 27th at WSC 15; participated at WSC 17; and came 14th at WSC 19.

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

12  GB  Cambridge University Eco Racing 

Four-seat cruiser (Helia) – they will be staying in the UK this year, and attending the British Motor Show.

Previously, Cambridge came 22nd at WSC 15; participated in the WSC 19 Cruiser class; and came 10th at iESC 16.

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

23  GB  University of Nottingham Solar Racing Team 

Cruiser (new team) – their rather radical approach is to modify a Renault Twizy to have solar panels, improved electrics, and second life Nissan Leaf batteries. They aim to participate at iESC 2022 with their first car.

photo: UoN team (click image to zoom)

43  GB  Ardingly Ifield Solar 

Two-seat cruiser (Ardingly Solar Car) – this high-school team came 6th in the 2018 iESC Cruiser class, and have upgraded the car since then. They also did a UK solar tour, and also attended the British Motor Show.

Previously, Ardingly participated in the WSC 15 Cruiser class; participated in the WSC 19 Adventure class; came 6th in the iESC 18 Cruiser class; and participated at Albi Eco 19.

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

Solar Racing Basics: Chassis

Click to zoom / Image credit: American Solar Challenge

Continuing the analysis of my Solar Racing Basics Poster (see this tag), solar cars have to keep their driver safe and the vehicle in one piece. There are two basic ways of doing this. First, a car can have a carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer body over a metal chassis. For example, Bochum’s thyssenkrupp blue.cruiser (below) is supported by a tubular frame of ultrahigh-strength steel. Second, a car can have a load-bearing “monocoque” body, possibly also of carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer. Carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer is strong for its weight, and this is significant, since a noticeable amount of energy in a solar car (though less than aerodynamic drag) is lost in rolling resistance. The rolling resistance of a car is proportional to its weight (it also depends on the quality of the tires), and so reducing weight makes the car faster. In 2019, the lightest solar car (from Western Sydney) weighed just 116.8 kg without the driver.

Cars may include a “roll bar” or “roll cage” to protect the driver in addition to the monocoque body. This “roll bar” or “roll cage” may be made of metal tubes, or it may also be made of carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer. A close look at unpainted carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer shows the “chequerboard” pattern of carbon-fibre “cloth” embedded inside transparent epoxy polymer (as in the body and roll bar of Durham’s Ortus, also below).

Click to zoom / Image credits: Anthony Dekker (Bochum’s thyssenkrupp blue.cruiser and the interior of Durham’s Ortus)

To read more, see see this post about car body and chassis by Nick Elderfield of the University of Calgary Solar Car Team, this Instagram post about composite materials by MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team, and this UMNSVP wiki on Composite Chassis Design.

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):       

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.

World Solar Challenge 2019: even more charts

Adding to my earlier list of World Solar Challenge distance/speed plots, here are 8 more (mostly circulated previously on Twitter). Night stops and notable events are marked on the bottom of each chart in a highlight colour. Control stops are in black.

Michigan traditionally comes third in the World Solar Challenge. They were third again this year. Their chart shows no drama, just fast, steady racing.

Control stop times for Michigan: Katherine: Sunday 12:29:00, Daly Waters: Sunday 16:08:02, Tennant Creek: Monday 12:13:30, Barrow Creek: Monday 15:14:24, Alice Springs: Tuesday 10:02:07, Kulgera: Tuesday 13:42:10, Coober Pedy: Wednesday 10:25:19, Glendambo: Wednesday 14:21:01, Port Augusta: Thursday 9:14:26, Adelaide: Thursday 14:56:00.

Western Sydney, in their beautiful car Unlimited 3.0, battled electrical issues, motor problems, and a wind gust that finally took them out. They still found time to help out Sonnenwagen Aachen on the road south. The photograph in the chart is mine.

Control stop times for Western Sydney: Katherine: Sunday 12:55:00, Daly Waters: Sunday 16:59:06, Tennant Creek: Tuesday 11:51:31.

There was no such drama for ETS Quebec (Éclipse), just steady consistent driving, finishing as best Canadian team, 2th North American team, and 9th in the world. That’s why they received my consistency gem.

Control stop times for Éclipse: Katherine: Sunday 13:27:04, Daly Waters: Monday 8:55:47, Tennant Creek: Monday 16:08:23, Barrow Creek: Tuesday 11:13:27, Alice Springs: Tuesday 16:10:27, Kulgera: Wednesday 11:59:00, Coober Pedy: Thursday 9:48:25, Glendambo: Thursday 13:56:55, Port Augusta: Friday 9:32:09, Adelaide: Friday 14:21:48.

Swedish team Jönköping University (JU) also had plenty of drama. They were forced to stop under cloudy skies with a flat battery and they needed an overnight repair. But they still finished tenth!

Control stop times for JU: Katherine: Sunday 12:51:56, Daly Waters: Monday 8:07:49, Tennant Creek: Monday 14:31:05, Barrow Creek: Tuesday 9:41:27, Alice Springs: Tuesday 14:13:37, Kulgera: Wednesday 12:39:00, Coober Pedy: Thursday 9:53:47, Glendambo: Thursday 13:51:40, Port Augusta: Friday 10:04:55, Adelaide: Friday 14:44:20.

Antakari had a smooth and largely uneventful race, apart from a couple of stops of a few minutes each. The GPS track shows them hunting around for a good campsite each night. They finished 7th (just ahead of NITech).

Control stop times for Antakari: Katherine: Sunday 13:15:43, Daly Waters: Monday 8:56:38, Tennant Creek: Monday 15:06:40, Barrow Creek: Tuesday 9:55:51, Alice Springs: Tuesday 14:17:59, Kulgera: Wednesday 10:34:05, Coober Pedy: Thursday 8:45:34, Glendambo: Thursday 12:58:06, Port Augusta: Friday 8:33:08, Adelaide: Friday 13:07:11.

Nagoya Institute of Technology (NITech) also had a smooth and largely uneventful race, finishing 8th (just behind Antakari).

Control stop times for NITech: Katherine: Sunday 12:56:50, Daly Waters: Monday 8:06:31, Tennant Creek: Monday 14:42:02, Barrow Creek: Tuesday 9:38:31, Alice Springs: Tuesday 14:40:56, Kulgera: Wednesday 10:22:50, Coober Pedy: Thursday 8:45:20, Glendambo: Thursday 13:01:29, Port Augusta: Friday 8:38:35, Adelaide: Friday 13:24:10.

The team from Durham University crossed Australia on solar power, in spite of minor electrical problems (they are the first UK team to do so for many years). Unfortunately they only managed around 2830 km, not quite reaching Adelaide. In the past, cars have been permitted to drive on Saturday mornings, whereas this year, cars had to cease driving on Friday evening. Judging from the graph, Durham might not have realised this for the first few days.

Control stop times for Durham: Katherine: Sunday 14:26:58, Daly Waters: Monday 10:34:22, Tennant Creek: Tuesday 9:39:42, Barrow Creek: Tuesday 13:45:32, Alice Springs: Wednesday 10:53:29, Kulgera: Wednesday 15:59:45, Coober Pedy: Thursday 14:36:36, Glendambo: Friday 10:01:30, Port Augusta: Friday 14:42:19.

Swedish newcomers Chalmers Solar Team managed two control stops, but were slowed significantly by the hilly terrain in the first part of the route. They therefore trailered at around 735 km.

Control stop times for Chalmers: Katherine: Sunday 14:56:54, Daly Waters: Monday 12:49:32.

World Solar Challenge: statistics and recent news

Top left: Onda Solare revealed their modified Cruiser Emilia 4 LT on 31 July (credit); Top right: Western Sydney revealed their new monohull Challenger Unlimited 3.0 on 7 August (photo: Anthony Dekker); Bottom left: STC revealed their unusual passenger-behind-driver Cruiser on 8 August (credit); Bottom right: Durham revealed their asymmetric Challenger Ortus on 12 August (credit)

We have had a few new solar car reveals recently (see above – click to zoom). The pie chart below shows current statistics (excluding #67 Golden State and #86 Dyuti, which do not seem to be active teams). Among the Challengers, the designs for #4 Antakari, #10 Tokai, and #18 EcoPhoton are still unknown.

Monohulls remain a minority among the Challengers (though a minority that has doubled in size since 2017). I am using the term “outrigger” for cars with monohull bodies but wheels sticking well out to the sides (the two new Swedish teams, #23 HUST and #51 Chalmers). There are also two quite different wide symmetric cars (#22 MDH and #63 Alfaisal). Among the Cruisers, 4-seaters remain a minority, in spite of the substantial points benefit for carrying multiple passengers. As always, see my regularly updated illustrated teams list for details.

World Solar Challenge: Team 26

26  Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUSC2015)

The team from Durham University have had a recent merger and name change from “Durham University Solar Car” to “Durham University Electric Motorsport,” although their car name reflects the older team name. As a consequence of the change, their previous website and social media accounts are no longer operating. They participated in the 2011 WSC (under the previous name), and their car is entered in the WSC Challenger class this year (although media reports suggest that there are still some teething problems, and that final assembly of the car will not take place until after arrival in Australia). The picture below gives a good view of the car’s internals. Good luck, team 26!

For up-to-date lists of all World Solar Challenge 2015 teams, see: