In the lead up to the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia this coming October, wise solar car teams are building their media and social media presence. This has all kinds of benefits. It grows the fan base, and fans sometimes respond to crowd-funding campaigns. Even if they don’t, fans provide moral support. A media/social media presence also helps to attract sponsors, either as a result of a potential sponsor reading a story, or as a result of a potential sponsor googling a team.
Above are two good media stories, one from the champions in Delft, and the other from the newer Ecophoton team in Malaysia. It often helps to place a story if there is a local connection. It’s big news in Zwolle (population 127,000) that a local girl is team leader of Vattenfall Solar Team. It’s even bigger news in Abcoude (population 8,800) that a local student is on the team. During the American Solar Challenge, solar car teams spending the night in a town are pretty much guaranteed to make the local news as well. This benefits a team’s university, in that children are likely to remember the big event when they later go to college.
Other kinds of media story are technology-focused, highlighting the role of in-kind sponsors, such as Sonnenwagen Aachen and Covestro. Transportation and logistics sponsors, like Michigan and Höegh Autoliners, also generate stories of an obvious kind. In all cases, a good team photographer contributes greatly to a good story.
Michigan loads up their famous semi trailer in June 2015 (image credit)
I’ve often pointed out that a solar car team is more like a startup company than anything else. Sponsorship and media is just as important as building and racing the car. The top teams provide a model to follow for all of these activities. Conversely, those teams which fail to recruit a subteam for sponsorship and media should not be surprised if they struggle to find sponsors (which is my cue to mention this great trio of posts on sponsorship from Australia’s Team Arrow).
I recently got my hands on the GPS tracker data for the American Solar Challenge last July. Above (for the 6 Challengers completing the stage) and below (for the Cruisers) are distance/speed charts for the run from Craters of the Moon to Burns, which seems the stage of the route with the best data (at this time of year I haven’t the time for a more detailed analysis). Click on the charts to zoom. Small coloured circles show end-of-day stops.
Stage times were 15:Western Sydney 8:05:16, 101:ETS Quebec 8:20:13, 2:Michigan 8:25:08, 55:Poly Montréal 8:42:52, 4:MIT 9:07:58, and 6:CalSol 9:30:12 for Challengers, and 828:App State 10:22:37, 559:Bologna 12:13:57, and 24:Waterloo 15:29:12 for Cruisers (note that Bologna was running fully loaded on solar power only, while the other Cruisers recharged from the grid).
The data has been processed by IOSiX. I’m not sure what that involved, but I’ve taken the data as gospel, eliminating any datapoints out of hours, off the route, or with PDOP more than 10. Notice that there are a few tracker “black spots,” and that trackers in some cars work better than in others. The small elevation charts are taken from the GPS tracker data, so they will not be reliable in the “black spots” (in particular, the big hill before Burns has been truncated – compare my timing chart).
Nuon at WSC 17 (photo: Anthony Dekker)
Below is my personal world ranking of the top 21 Challenger-class solar car teams (revised with new data from an earlier list). It was produced entirely algorithmically by using linear regression on historical data to build mappings between WSC rankings and those of other races, and then applying those mappings to the results of four recent events (WSC 17, ASC 18, ESC 18, and Sasol 18). For example, this is the mapping between Sasol placings and WSC placings. It was used to map all Sasol 18 teams to expected WSC placings:
There is as yet insufficient data to rate Cruiser-class teams (apart from the actual WSC 17 results: 1 Eindhoven, 2 Bochum, 3 Arrow). But here is the table of Challengers:
Note that Cruiser teams like Eindhoven, Bochum, and Arrow are excluded from the list. The letter P marks cars that participated in WSC 17, but did not finish, and thus were not ranked at the time. It must also be said that Western Sydney, Eclipse, Esteban, and MIT should probably be ranked higher than they are here – the algorithm is not taking into account the dramatic improvement in ASC teams this year. However, good ESC and Sasol performance has bumped up Aachen, SER, Eco Solar Breizh, and South Africa’s new champion team, TUT.
Michigan at WSC 17 (photo: Anthony Dekker)
Nuon at WSC 17 (photo: Anthony Dekker)
Here is my personal world ranking of the top twenty Challenger-class solar cars. It was produced entirely algorithmically by using linear regression on historical data to build mappings between WSC rankings and those of other races, and then applying those mappings to the results of four recent events (SASOL 16, ESC 16, WSC 17, and ASC 18). There is as yet insufficient data to rate Cruiser-class teams (apart from the actual WSC 17 results: 1 Eindhoven, 2 Bochum, 3 Arrow).
Note that, for ESC 16, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th place cars were all Bochum Cruisers and are therefore not listed here, while 6th was Onda Solare, which is now also a Cruiser team. The letter P marks cars that participated in WSC 17, but did not finish, and thus were not ranked. It must also be said that Eclipse, Esteban, and MIT should probably be ranked higher than they are here – the algorithm is not taking into account the dramatic improvement in ASC teams this year.
Michigan at WSC 17 (photo: Anthony Dekker)
Start, drive, cross the line, recharge (picture credits: 1
Day 8 of the American Solar Challenge was another sunny day. The road to Burns included several steep hills, climbing out of the Snake River Plain, and teams that did not negotiate them yesterday had to do so today. Appalachian State were the first Cruiser to arrive in Burns. Onda Solare are the only untrailered Cruiser, however (and still with 4 people and no external recharging). The chart below summarises the race so far (penalty minutes are added at the right of the chart).
I am awarding my “Cruiser Pioneer” gem to the University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project, who are America’s Cruiser (MOV) class pioneers. They were the only Cruiser at ASC 2016. They came 4th in the WSC 2013 Cruiser class, and 5th in the WSC 2015 Cruiser class. They won the FSGP MOV class this year by a convincing margin, and were clear leaders for the ASC road race until they ran into trouble 40 miles into stage 4 (with an electrical fault). Thank you, UMNSVP, for showing everybody else the way!
ASC, Day 7 (picture credits: 1
Day 7 of the American Solar Challenge was full of drama. An incredible race between Western Sydney and Michigan saw average speeds to the checkpoint in Mountain Home of 90.8 km/h (56.4 mph). In the Cruiser class, there was a tragic breakdown by Minnesota, which I think will leave Onda Solare the winners by default.
I am, however, giving my “Most Desirable Car Gem” award to PrISUm. Their car did not qualify for the road race, but I still think that their “solar SUV” is a fantastic concept.
And here are the night-time car positions (unreliable in the case of Michigan). I have overlaid them on my elevation map to emphasise the 850 metre downhill run into Mountain Home, and then the climb back up into Burns.
The mountains, Day 5 (picture credits: 1
Well, we had the “Big Climb” in the American Solar Challenge. The mountains were beautiful, but timewise it was an anticlimax. Michigan and ETS / Eclipse slowed down a little, but some other cars actually sped up! The battles for 1st and 3rd are still quite close, as the chart for Farson shows (click to zoom). The Cruisers seem to be trying to pick up the pace a little.
On an unrelated matter, although the American Solar Challenge is far from over, I’m getting a head start on my personal Gem Awards for the race. The “Solar Car Family Gem” goes to Team 55 (Poly Montreal / Esteban) for the multiple mentions in social media of their helpfulness.
Oh, and the tracker seems to be working again. Here (unchecked and unedited) are night-time positions: