World Solar Challenge head to head: USA Challengers

The World Solar Challenge is an exciting race to find the best solar car in the world. That makes for serious competition between countries. But there are also some interesting contests within countries. The most obvious is between Nuon (3) and Twente (21), who came first and second in the Challenger class last time.

Within the USA, Michigan (2, Novum, above) has generally been the best, although Stanford (16, Sundae, below) has recently been close behind (see chart at top). This year, Michigan has “thought outside the box.” If their unusual design succeeds, they could win. If not, Stanford could take over as “Best in the West.” What will happen?


World Solar Challenge car sizes

The infographic above (click to zoom) shows the reported length and width of eight World Solar Challenge cars. The widest car (at 1.8 m) is that of the Swedish MDH Solar Team (although this car has large bites taken out of each side). The two family Cruisers from Eindhoven and Lodz (dashed lines) are also quite wide, and take full advantage of the maximum allowed length of 5 m.

The Belgian Punch Powertrain Solar Team has produced a very short zippy Challenger class car (illustrated), and Nuon’s car (not shown) seems of a similar size. In contrast, Michigan has a long narrow bullet car, powered by GaAs solar cells. Twente, using Si cells, has a substantially longer car than Punch, but a narrower one. It will be very interesting to see how these differences play out in the race, come October.


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)