Australia is waiting for contestants in the 2017 World Solar Challenge, the premier world contest in sustainable vehicle technology. The average maximum October temperature in the town of Katherine, on the Stuart Highway, is 37.7°C. Road trains are a frequent hazard on the highway, and past races have had to deal with fire as well. Sometimes things go wrong with the car. But it’s still an absolutely fantastic experience!
The chart above shows car weights (in kg) for the World Solar Challenge Challenger class, since 2001. In spite of the increasing safety standards and the shift from 3 wheels to 4, weights have trended steadily downwards, which says something about the strength-to-weight ratio of modern composite materials.
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.
Here is a salute to the winners of the major solar car races this year:
Further to my post on the European Solar Challenge results, here is a graph of the lap counts during the 24 hour track race (with thanks to Nigel for the data). Twente had an explicit strategy of not driving excessively fast, and braking as little as possible, in order to keep their recharge times to just one hour. This certainly paid off for them! The graph also shows those teams that had trouble of various kinds.
The European Solar Challenge at Circuit Zolder this year had an interesting format, with a 24 hour endurance track race, a competition for the fastest lap time, a chicane challenge, and a presentation about the car. Requiring a balance between speed, cornering ability, and battery capacity, the track race seemed to provide a fair competition for both Cruiser-class and Challenger-class cars.
Twente won the track race, with 278 laps (ahead of the Tesla with 273 laps), followed by Punch Powertrain from Leuven (262) and the PowerCore Suncruiser from Bochum (258). The Thyssenkrupp Sunriser from Bochum ran the fastest lap (3:03.063), followed by their Solarworld GT (3:09.990) and the Swiss Solar Energy Racers (3:19.891). The chicane challenge was won by the Solarworld GT, and the presentation by Twente.
The chart below shows the updated and official team points. The bars labelled “Total” on the left are the sum of all the other bars. Teams with zero points are not shown. Congratulations to all the teams, especially Twente, who won overall, Punch Powertrain, who came second, and the Thyssenkrupp Sunriser, which came third!