Which is the best World Solar Challenge team?

Recently, I saw that someone had asked on the Internet which the best team in the World Solar Challenge was.

For the WSC Challenger class, this is not a difficult question. Nuon Solar Team owns the race, and has won six times out of eight this century (although “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”). The more interesting question is: who is second? There are four main contenders for that honour.

A few years ago, I would have placed Tokai University second. They won the race in 2009 and 2011. However, unless they can reverse the trend, their star seems to be falling.

Michigan are very definitely the best US team. However, they have pointed out themselves that they suffer “the curse of third,” and thus far lack the je ne sais quoi that it takes to win (of course, when they find it, Nuon had better watch out).

The star of Solar Team Twente is rising. They worked their way up to second place in 2015. They could win this year.

Finally, the Belgian team from KU Leuven is also moving up, and I expect them to do very well this year also.

In the WSC Cruiser class, “best” is a fuzzier concept. However, Eindhoven, Bochum, and UNSW/Sunswift have all done consistently well, with Eindhoven winning the last two races.

World Solar Challenge progress

Across the world, solar car teams are beginning to finish their cars for the 2017 World Solar Challenge, the premier world contest in sustainable vehicle technology. Michigan has shipped their famous semi, while MDH and Iowa have revealed their cars (photo memories from MDH Solar Team, Iowa State University, University of Michigan, Bochum, and Kogakuin). Meanwhile, the road from Darwin to Adelaide is waiting.

See here for an updated team list.

More World Solar Challenge preparations

Across the world, solar car teams continue to prepare for the 2017 World Solar Challenge, turning dreams into functioning vehicles (Instagram memories from Michigan, Belgium, Jönköping, Nuon, Lodz, and me). Meanwhile, the road from Darwin to Adelaide is waiting.

Who’s your local team?

A solar car racing year

Here is a salute to the winners of the major solar car races this year:

Congratulations to Equipo Solar KAN, Michigan, Twente, and Nuon… and looking forward to seeing teams from across the world in Australia a year from now!

Praising Michigan

Angell Hall, University of Michigan

The University of Michigan is ranked 17th in the world on the Times Higher Education list of engineering institutions. It is located in the small city of Ann Arbor, and has over 40,000 students, who are required to take race and ethnicity courses as part of their degrees.

Since its founding in 1817, university staff and alumni have collected several Nobel prizes. The university is also proud to have America’s number one solar car team:

Michigan’s solar car Aurum comes 4th in the 2015 World Solar Challenge (my photo)

World Solar Challenge: Day 5

I was very happy to see the lead seven World Solar Challenge cars arrive in Adelaide today. The cars, with their approximate arrival times in Darwin time, were Nuon (team 3, Netherlands, 10:26), Twente (team 21, Netherlands, 10:35), Tokai (team 10, Japan, 11:20) – shown above – and Michigan (team 2, USA, 11:24), Punch (team 8, Belgium, 11:49), Stanford (team 16, USA, 13:54), and Kecskemét (team 23, Hungary, 15:34) – shown below. Add an hour to those times for Adelaide time, and another 20 minutes or so for them to get across the city from the timing point to Victoria Square.

Below is another race chart (as always, click to zoom). Data is taken from the official timing board for days 1 to 5 (but two obviously incorrect datapoints have been removed). In this chart, the distance is horizontal, and the vertical axis expresses time, specifically how many hours each car is behind a car driving at exactly 97.42 km/h (that’s the speed which would get a car into Adelaide at exactly closing time yesterday). Final positions on the vertical axis correspond to arrival times (but add an hour for Adelaide time, and another 20 minutes or so to get to Victoria Square). I have included Cruisers in this chart – note the compulsory overnight stop in Alice Springs for Cruiser cars.

I expect twelve cars to arrive during the course of Friday, including the top three Cruisers. The rules specify that “Solarcars must not proceed south of Port Augusta after 11:00 (Darwin time = 12:00 Adelaide time). Solarcars already running south of this point must trailer from this time.” It remains to be seen how many other cars will squeeze in under this limit to get into Adelaide on Saturday morning. In what I have started calling the B race, cars that have been trailered at some point will try to clock up as many solar kilometres as possible, given that limit, together with the closures of the Glendambo and Coober Pedy control stops at 11:20 and 14:00 tomorrow.

And here are the car positions this evening:

World Solar Challenge: How convoys work

A typical convoy (photo of solar car by Jorrit Lousberg, from here)

Solar cars in the WSC each form part of a convoy – a typical convoy is shown above (click to zoom). The lead (front) escort vehicle and chase (rear) escort vehicle ride immediately in front of and immediately behind the solar car. The chase vehicle carries a warning sign (“CAUTION: SOLAR VEHICLE AHEAD”) that informs other traffic about the presence of the solar car. In addition, the chase vehicle carries emergency equipment like fire extinguishers and a first-aid kit.

Michigan’s lead and chase vehicles for the 2010 American Solar Challenge

The truck (or car with a trailer) rides further behind. It carries equipment and provides the ability to transport the solar car in the event of a breakdown.

Michigan’s semi-trailer driving down the Stuart Highway in the 2011 WSC (photo: Marcin Szczepanski)

The (optional) scout vehicle rides well ahead, checking out road conditions and potential hazards. There may also be additional vehicles, like a media car. All vehicles in the convoy stay in touch with each other using CB radio.

See also this excellent post by Solar Team Twente about their 11-vehicle convoy, illustrated in the infographic below (click to zoom). As is often the case, their chase (rear) escort vehicle also houses the team’s Decision-Making Unit (DMU), who plan the strategy for the race.

Solar Team Twente’s convoy structure (driving left to right)