Solar racing teams: the US and Dutch models


Stanford at the finish of the World Solar Challenge in 2015

Everybody knows that I’m a big solar racing fan. Today I wanted to talk about solar car team models, comparing what I call the “US model” (although most other countries also use it) with what I call the “Dutch model” (also used by the Belgian team). In the “US model,” students work part-time on a solar car team, and new members are added each year. As an example of this, I will look at the Stanford Solar Car Project, and specifically at one team member: Rachel Abril, who is forever famous for her May 2014 TEDx talk.

Rachel Abril did a 4-year Bachelor degree in Mechanical Engineering (the blue blocks in the chart below show Stanford’s academic years) followed by a Masters degree. The hashed region on the chart shows her extensive involvement with the Stanford Solar Car Project, first as a junior Mechanical Team and Aerodynamics Team member, and later as Suspension Lead and Aerodynamics Lead. She did not, I believe, attend the 2013 World Solar Challenge, but she did attend the 2015 and 2017 races (Stanford was improving during this period, but so were the other top-twelve teams!).

Rachel Abril’s story highlights one great advantage of the “US model,” namely that long-serving team members develop enormous experience in the design, construction, and racing of solar cars. They can take the lessons of one race, and apply them to the next one (and Rachel’s TEDx talk mentions some lessons that Stanford learned).

There are a number of disadvantages to the “US model,” however. New recruits often have limited knowledge of relevant physics (especially in the US, where high school graduates are educationally about a year behind their European or Australian counterparts). What work can new recruits be given that is both interesting to them and useful to the team? How can they be properly integrated into the team, and feel that they are genuinely part of the group? How can the team stop new recruits from feeling “cheesed-off” and dropping out? Answering these questions well is the key to success for US teams. One of the answers lies in running internal training courses for new recruits (there is also the IEF Solar Car Conference), but teams do not always include “Education Lead” or “New Member Coordinator” as one of the key team roles.

Another disadvantage of the “US model” is that the mix of people with varying lengths of experience creates a power structure. It can be difficult for a new recruit to disagree with someone that has been on the team for many years (even if, objectively, the new recruit is right). This can be a trap.

A final difficulty with the “US model” lies in balancing solar car construction, academic study, and personal life. Conventional wisdom is that you can hope for at most two out of three. Privately, team alumni sometimes suggest that one out of three might be more realistic. I don’t know what support mechanisms might help with this.


Solar Team Twente at the finish of the World Solar Challenge in 2019

In contrast, in the “Dutch model,” a smaller group of people gives up a little over a year of their life to work full-time on a solar car. This is quite a sacrifice. The Belgian team’s recruitment page explains the return on investment for the year like this (my translation):

  1. A project filled with experiences that you won’t find in your regular studies;
  2. Discovering a genuine engineering project and its various phases: concept, design, production,
    and test;
  3. Connecting and collaborating with the largest companies in relevant industries;
  4. A close-knit group and a racing adventure never to be forgotten;
  5. The experience of a lifetime and so much more!

Essentially, the year on the solar car team functions as an unpaid internship (speaking as someone who has helped arrange engineering internships in the past, I can’t think of an internship where you would learn more). One positive feature of industry internships is normally industry networking; this is also worked into the Dutch/Belgian solar car experience (as #3 on that list indicates). Of course, the need to set up those industry connections is one more reason to have a really professional sponsorship team.

As an example of the “Dutch model,” I will focus specifically on the 2018–19 “edition” of Solar Team Twente. Behind this team sits a part-time organisation (mostly of alumni) which handles recruitment and provides technical advice. This organisation began recruiting in February 2018, and a new team was announced on 9 June 2018. All these people were complete solar car novices, of course. The new team began work at the start of the 2018–19 academic year (with the aerodynamic and management subteams starting a little earlier). In the chart below, coloured blocks show academic years, and the hashed region shows the typical duration of full-time team involvement:

One of the first activities of the novice Twente team was to race the previous car, Red Shift, at the European Solar Challenge (iESC) on 21–23 September 2018. Team alumni raced the even older Red One, so that this was not only a training activity for the novice team, but an opportunity for knowledge transfer from alumni. Building on their iESC experience, the novice team then began designing and building their new car, RED E. The new car was revealed on 21 June 2019. After a test race on 17–18 August, the car was shipped to Australia on 30 August (a tragic crash due to wind gusts put RED E out of the race, but it was in the lead when that happened).

Engineering education in the Netherlands is traditionally a 5-year Ingenieur degree. Because of EU regulations, this is nowadays packaged as a 3-year Bachelor degree plus a 2-year Masters, but local students generally take the full package (because of the superior Dutch high school system, the 3-year Bachelor degree reaches at least the same standard as the 4-year US equivalent). As a result, the novice Twente team would have had substantially more formal education under their belts than new solar car recruits in the US. Dutch engineering schools also benefit from a close connection to industry, which drives a practical focus. The Eindhoven University of Technology, for example, is traditionally a feeder school for Philips, DAF Trucks, and other engineering companies in the Eindhoven area.

Of course, not every university teaches every skill needed for solar car design and construction. Dutch engineering schools typically teach agile project management, for example, but this does not seem to be the case in Belgium. The Belgian team therefore arranged industry training on the subject from their sponsor Delaware Consulting. Dutch teams also often benefit from industry-based “team building” activities (this video shows such an activity for Top Dutch). Practice races (including the European Solar Challenge) compensate for the fact that team members have never attended the World Solar Challenge before.

Because of team-building, educational initiatives, and good knowledge management, the “Dutch model” consistently produces top solar cars (Vattenfall/Delft has won the World Solar Challenge repeatedly, the Belgians won in 2019, Twente was on the podium in 2013 and 2015, Top Dutch came 4th in their first race, and Eindhoven has won the Cruiser Class every time). While the “Dutch model” relies partly on specific features of engineering education in the Netherlands and Belgium, I think there are several Dutch/Belgian practices that teams in other countries can learn from.


Nuon (now Vattenfall) at the finish of the World Solar Challenge in 2017

I should finish with a note on Vattenfall (Delft) Solar Team, which runs a variation of the “Dutch model.” Vattenfall (Delft) alternates what I call “big build” teams with “small build” teams. The “big build” teams design and construct new cars for the World Solar Challenge, while the “small build” teams modify existing cars for other events. For example, Nuna9 was a “big build” for the 2017 World Solar Challenge, while Nuna9S was a “small build” modification of the same car for the 2018 South African race (it included a clever radar system). Likewise, Nuna Phoenix was the same car modified again for the 2020 American Solar Challenge (that event was sadly cancelled, but Nuna Phoenix did set a world record). As part of providing a return on investment for the “small build” teams, Vattenfall (Delft) is careful to give these modified cars their own identity.


World Solar Challenge: the Spirit of the Event

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is on again in a year’s time. Here are the last four winners of the “David Fewchuk Spirit of the Event” Award. Together they demonstrate what the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is all about:

2013 – Stanford Solar Car Project

Stanford came fourth in 2013, after a tough battle against Twente for third. This famous TEDx talk by Rachel Abril illustrates their spirit.


Photo: SSCP

2015 – A Team of Helpers

In 2015, UiTM EcoPhoton Solar Racing Team suffered a devastating battery fire. At Alice Springs, a group of Cruiser-class team members were having a stage stop, and helped with overnight repairs of the car (mostly from UNSW and Minnesota, I understand, plus some people from Bochum, Eindhoven, and Kogakuin, together with some WSC officials and some solar car alumni travelling along with the race as spectators). If I recall correctly, Adem Rudin (a University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project alumnus) accepted the award on behalf of the whole group, and the award was retained by EcoPhoton.


Photos: MostDece

2017 – Nuon (now Vattenfall) Solar Team

In 2017, Nuon (now Vattenfall) Solar Team won the Challenger class, but was also awarded the “David Fewchuk Spirit of the Event” Award for their “professionalism, team spirit and technical excellence.”


Photo: Anthony Dekker

2019 – Sonnenwagen Aachen

Sonnenwagen Aachen won the award in 2019 for not giving up in the face of all kinds of trouble. They stopped for five hours to repair their car on the Wednesday, just before Coober Pedy, after the car was blown off the road. There was another stop between Glendambo and Port Augusta, due to a broken shock absorber that had been damaged in the crash (Western Sydney Solar Team kindly helped get them back on the road). They wound up finishing sixth, and they also won the Safety Award. Ironically, the regulations for 2021 have been altered to rule out such a quick return to the road in future.


Photo: Anthony Dekker


World Solar Challenge September 3 update

In the leadup to the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia this October, most cars have been revealed (see my recently updated illustrated list of teams), with JU’s reveal a few days ago (see below), and Tokai’s reveal due in a few hours.

There are now 9 international teams in Australia (more than the number of local teams). Eindhoven (#40), Agoria (#8), and part of Vattenfall (#3) are driving north to Darwin, while Top Dutch (#6) have a workshop in Port Augusta (and living quarters in Quorn).


JU’s solar car Axelent (photo credit)

The chart below shows progress in submitting compulsory design documents for the race. White numbers highlight eight teams with no visible car or no visible travel plans:

  • #86 Sphuran Industries Private Limited (Dyuti) – this team is probably not a serious entry. I will eat my hat if they turn up in Darwin.
  • #63 Alfaisal Solar Car Team – recently, they have gone rather quiet, but they have a working car.
  • #89 Estidamah – they have not responded to questions. They also might not turn up, although they have obtained several greens for compulsory documents.
  • #80 Beijing Institute of Technology – they never say much, but they always turn up in the end. I don’t expect this year to be any different.
  • #4 Antakari Solar Team – they are clearly behind schedule, but they are an experienced team. They will probably turn up. (edit: they have revealed a beautiful bullet car)
  • #55 Mines Rabat Solar Team – they seem to have run out of time. Can they finish the car and raise money for air freight? I’m not sure. (edit: it seems that they will attend the Moroccan Solar Challenge instead of WSC)
  • #98 ATN Solar Car Team and #41 Australian National University  – these teams are obviously in trouble but, being Australian, they should still turn up in Darwin with a car. (edit: both teams have since revealed cars)



2019 World Solar Challenge update #5


Michigan’s Novum, after having arrived second in 2017 (photo: Anthony Dekker)

Warning: this list is obsolete. Please check more recent posts.

Here is a further update on the 51 teams (27 Challengers, 23 Cruisers, and 1 Adventure car) aiming for the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia this coming October. Many teams are busy with construction, and below is my best understanding of the current team status (it does not yet reflect the to-be-published official list of teams). A few things have changed since my last list, and I have added some pictures and corrected some errors.

Meanwhile, 25 teams – Bridger, Calgary, CalSol (1st in 2017), Esteban (3rd in 2017), Florida, Ga Tech, Illini, Illinois St, Kentucky, Mich St, Missouri S&T, NCSU, NJIT, Northwestern, Principia, PrISUm, Purdue, Rutgers, SIUE, UBC, UPRM, UT, UVA, W Mich, and Waterloo, including 1 WSC team – are preparing to attend FSGP 2019 in America this July.

Recent BWSC news is that JU Solar Team have a body, that Eindhoven have a bottom shell, that Top Dutch and CalSol also have shells, and that Bochum have clarified their plans.

In addition, on 24–25 May, the Albi Eco Race will have Bochum competing against Ardingly and several French cars (see my report on the 2018 event).

AU  Looks on track  Adelaide University 

Challenger (Lumen II) – they have been doing a lot of testing.

AU  Hmmm  ATN Solar Car Team 

Cruiser (new team: see my team bio) – their team is a mixture of lecturers and students from five universities across Australia. They have tested a model in a wind tunnel.

AU  Hmmm  Australian National University 

Challenger (new car: MTAA Gnowee) – the car is named after a woman in Aboriginal myth who carries the sun. They are working on their mould.

AU  Looks on track  Flinders University 

Cruiser (Investigator Mark III) – they are planning to improve aerodynamics, reduce weight, and make some other changes.

AU  Looks on track  TAFE SA 

Cruiser (SAV) – this time they will tow the trailer that belongs with the car.

AU  Looks on track  Team Arrow 

Cruiser (ArrowSTF) – they have done a six-month-out update video.

Team Arrow 6 Months to #BWSC19 Update

AU  Looks on track  University of New South Wales / Sunswift 

Cruiser (Violet) – they have been testing their car on the track.

AU  Looks on track  Western Sydney Solar Team 

Challenger (new car) – they won the American Solar Challenge last year (with their Challenger car Unlimited 2.0).

BE  Looks on track  Agoria Solar Team (KU Leuven) 

Challenger (new car: BluePoint) – they have some (top secret) production moulds and are now sponsored by Agoria. They held a mock race with the old car.

CA  Looks on track  ETS Quebec (Eclipse) 

Challenger (Éclipse X.I) – they came an excellent 3rd in the ASC, 102 minutes behind Western Sydney, and hope to go even faster with the new battery pack in their modified car. Planned improvements are summarised in their winter newsletter.

CA  Looks on track  University of Toronto (Blue Sky) 

Challenger (new car: Viridian) – they plan to unveil the new car in July.

CL  Hmmm  Antakari Solar Team 

Challenger (new car: Intikallpa V) – no news on the new design as yet.

Antakari BWSC 2013 aftermovie (they participated in the Adventure class)

CL  Hmmm  Eolian AutoSolar 

Cruiser (new car: Auriga ) – they will be back at the WSC after coming 14th in 2007.


public domain photo

DE  Looks on track  Bochum University of Applied Sciences 

Cruiser (thyssenkrupp SunRiser ) – Bochum is not building a new WSC car, but are improving their sexy 2-seater SunRiser, which came 3rd in 2015. They also have a solar buggy team. As in previous years, they are participating in the Albi Eco Race.


photo: Anthony Dekker

DE  Looks on track  Sonnenwagen Aachen 

Challenger (new car) – they have a car-racing game app starring their car.

HK  Looks on track  Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education 

Cruiser (Sophie 6 plus) – they have been working on the car body.

IN  Looks like they might not make WSC  R.V. College of Engineering 

Challenger (new car) – no details as yet.


public domain photo

IN  Hmmm  SolarMobil Manipal 

Cruiser (SM-S2) – existing car.

IR  Hmmm  University of Tehran 

Cruiser (new car: Persian Gazelle 4) – they will unveil their car on 11 June.


public domain photo

IT  Looks like they might not make WSC  Futuro Solare Onlus 

Cruiser (new car: Archimede 2.0) – they have an exciting design concept.

IT  Looks on track  Onda Solare 

Cruiser (Emilia 4) – they won the American Solar Challenge (Cruiser class) last year, and they have written up their design process here.

JP  Looks on track  Kogakuin University 

Challenger (new car) – they have announced their participation and held a “Solar Team Welcome Party” for new members.

JP  Looks on track  Nagoya Institute of Technology 

Challenger (new car) – no news on the new design as yet.


public domain photo

JP  Looks on track  Tokai University 

Challenger (new car) – in January they hosted some visitors from Lodz.

KR  Looks on track  Kookmin University Solar Team 

Challenger (new car) – no news on the new design as yet.

KUST BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they raced in the Challenger class)

MY  Looks on track  EcoPhoton / UiTM 

Challenger (new car: Tigris) – see their first vlog (in Bahasa Malaysia).

MA  Looks like they might not make WSC  Mines Rabat Solar Team 

Challenger (new car: Eleadora 2) – their new catamaran will look like this. They have made a mould for their body.

NL  Looks on track  Solar Team Eindhoven 

Cruiser (new car: Stella ?) – they have turned a shipping container into an oven for production and plan to reveal their car on July 4. The bottom shell just came out.

NL  Looks on track  Solar Team Twente 

Challenger (new car: Red E) – they are already producing regular vlogs (in Dutch), and have also produced an (English) day-in-the-life blog post. They have revealed their design, which is a GaAs catamaran (see the animation here). They will run a MOOC explaining the design of their 2015 car, and will reveal their 2019 car on (of course!) 21 June.

NL  Looks on track  Top Dutch Solar Racing 

Challenger (new team: see my team bio) – they have a shell, which looks a lot like Michigan’s Novum.

NL  Looks on track  Vattenfall Solar Team (Delft) 

Challenger (new car: Nuna X) – these are the champions formerly known as Nuon. See their 2017 aftermovie.

PL  Looks on track  Lodz Solar Team 

Cruiser (Eagle Two) – they have produced a solar baby, which is a prize that lasts.

PL  Looks like they might not make WSC  PUT Solar Dynamics 

Cruiser (new team) – they are making a mould for their body.

SG  Looks on track  Singapore Polytechnic 

Cruiser (SunSPEC 5) – they have new motors and new doors.

SE  Looks on track  Chalmers Solar Team 

Challenger (new team: see my team bio) – their final render resembles the car of the South African NWU team. They have been working on their suspension, and hope to ship the car in early June.

SE  Looks on track  Halmstad University Solar Team 

Challenger (new team: see my team bio) – they are planning a bullet car, much like Michigan’s 2017 entry.

SE  Looks on track  JU Solar Team 

Challenger (new car: Axelent) – they have a rolling test chassis and a body. The body design seems long and thin.

SE  Looks on track  MDH Solar Team 

Challenger (MDH Solar Car) – they have been doing some testing.

CH  Looks on track  Solar Energy Racers 

Challenger (SER-3) – they raced this car in South Africa.

TW  Looks on track  Kaohsiung / Apollo 

Cruiser (new car: Apollo IX) – they have been making some carbon-fibre seats.

TH  Looks like they might not make WSC  Siam Technical College 

Cruiser (new car: STC-3) – no news on the new design as yet.

Siam Technical College BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they raced in the Cruiser class)

TR  Looks like they might not make WSC  Dokuz Eylül University (Solaris) 

Challenger (new car) – they expect the new car to be 44% more efficient than the 2015 model.


public domain photo

GB  Looks on track  Ardingly College 

Cruiser – this high-school team came 6th in the iESC Cruiser class, but have upgraded the car since then. They have been entertaining royalty, and will participate in the Albi Eco Race.

GB  Looks on track  Cambridge University 

Cruiser (new car: Helia) – they are busy with fabrication.

GB  Looks on track  Durham University 

Challenger (new car: Ortus) – they have been doing outreach, as well as fabrication.

US  Looks on track  Appalachian State University (Sunergy) 

Cruiser (new team: see my team bio) – as with some European teams, they have been testing at an airport.

US  Looks on track  Berkeley (CalSol) 

Cruiser (new car: Tachyon) – they have a shell. They will also attend FSGP 2019.

US  Looks on track  Houston School District 

Adventure (Sundancer) – this high school team from from Houston, Mississippi is a regular visitor, because they keep winning the US high school race.

US  Looks on track  Stanford Solar Car Project 

Challenger (new car) – they have revealed their shell, which is a unique asymmetric bullet car.

US  Looks on track  University of Michigan 

Challenger (new car) – they are asking for name suggestions for the new car.

Michigan BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they came 2nd in the Challenger class)

US  Looks on track  University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project 

Cruiser (new car: Freya) – they have posted a progress video on Facebbok.

UMNSVP BWSC 2015 aftermovie (they came 5th in the Cruiser class)

This page last updated 23:09 on 18 May 2019 AEST. Thanks to Nigel for several news items.


2019 World Solar Challenge update #4


The happy champions from Delft on stage at the BWSC 2017 awards night (photo: Anthony Dekker)

Warning: this list is obsolete. Please check more recent posts.

Here is a further update on the 51 teams (27 Challengers, 23 Cruisers, and 1 Adventure car) aiming for the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia this coming October. Many teams are busy with construction, and below is my best understanding of the current team status (it does not yet reflect the to-be-published official list of teams).

Meanwhile, 26 teams – Bridger, Calgary, CalSol (1st in 2017), Esteban (3rd in 2017), Florida, Ga Tech, Illini, Illinois St, Kentucky, Mich St, Missouri S&T, NCSU, NJIT, Northwestern, Principia, PrISUm, Purdue, Rutgers, SIUE, UBC, UPRM, USC, UT, UVA, W Mich, and Waterloo, including 1 WSC team – are preparing to attend FSGP 2019 in America this July.

Recent BWSC news is that Twente has revealed their design and that Stanford has shown the world their shell.

AU  Looks on track  Adelaide University 

Challenger (Lumen II) – they have been doing a lot of testing.

AU  Hmmm  ATN Solar Car Team 

Cruiser (new team: see my team bio) – their team is a mixture of lecturers and students from five universities across Australia. They have tested a model in a wind tunnel.

AU  Hmmm  Australian National University 

Challenger (new car: MTAA Gnowee) – the car is named after a woman in Aboriginal myth who carries the sun.


public domain photo

AU  Looks on track  Flinders University 

Cruiser (Investigator Mark III) – they are planning to improve aerodynamics, reduce weight, and make some other changes.

AU  Looks on track  TAFE SA 

Cruiser (SAV) – this time they will tow the trailer that belongs with the car.

AU  Looks on track  Team Arrow 

Cruiser (ArrowSTF) – as well as racing, their commercial arm, Prohelion, is selling power packages.

AU  Looks on track  University of New South Wales / Sunswift 

Cruiser (Violet) – they have been testing their car on the track.

AU  Looks on track  Western Sydney Solar Team 

Challenger (new car) – they won the American Solar Challenge last year (with their Challenger car Unlimited 2.0).

Western Sydney BWSC 2017 pre-race vlog (they came 6th in the Challenger class)

BE  Looks on track  Agoria Solar Team (KU Leuven) 

Challenger (new car: BluePoint) – they have some (top secret) production moulds and are now sponsored by Agoria.

CA  Looks on track  ETS Quebec (Eclipse) 

Challenger (Éclipse X.I) – they came an excellent 3rd in the ASC, 102 minutes behind Western Sydney, and hope to go even faster with the new battery pack in their modified car. Planned improvements are summarised in their winter newsletter.

CA  Looks on track  University of Toronto (Blue Sky) 

Challenger (new car: Viridian) – they plan to unveil the new car in July.

BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they came 11th in the Challenger class)

CL  Looks on track  Antakari Solar Team 

Challenger (new car: Intikallpa V) – no news on the new design as yet.

Antakari BWSC 2013 aftermovie (they participated in the Adventure class)

CL  Hmmm  Eolian AutoSolar 

Cruiser (new car: Auriga ) – they will be back at the WSC after coming 14th in 2007.


public domain photo

DE  Looks on track  Bochum University of Applied Sciences 

Cruiser (new car) – Bochum also has a solar buggy team.

DE  Looks on track  Sonnenwagen Aachen 

Challenger (new car) – they have a car-racing game app starring their car.

Sonnenwagen Aachen BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they raced in the Challenger class)

HK  Looks on track  Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education 

Cruiser (Sophie 6 plus) – they have been working on the car body.

IN  Hmmm  R.V. College of Engineering 

Challenger (new car) – no details as yet.


public domain photo

IN  Hmmm  SolarMobil Manipal 

Cruiser (SM-S2) – existing car.

IT  Hmmm  Futuro Solare Onlus 

Cruiser (new car: Archimede 2.0) – they have an exciting design concept.

IT  Looks on track  Onda Solare 

Cruiser (Emilia 4) – they won the American Solar Challenge (Cruiser class) last year, and they have written up their design process here.

JP  Looks on track  Kogakuin University 

Challenger (new car) – they have officially announced their participation.

Kogakuin BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they came 7th in the Challenger class)

JP  Looks on track  Nagoya Institute of Technology 

Challenger (new car) – no news on the new design as yet.


public domain photo

JP  Looks on track  Tokai University 

Challenger (new car) – in January they hosted some visitors from Lodz.

KR  Looks on track  Kookmin University Solar Team 

Challenger (new car) – no news on the new design as yet.

KUST BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they raced in the Challenger class)

MY  Looks on track  EcoPhoton / UiTM 

Challenger (new car: Tigris) – see their first vlog (in Bahasa Malaysia).

MA  Hmmm  Mines Rabat Solar Team 

Challenger (new car: Eleadora 2) – their new catamaran will look like this.

NL  Looks on track  Solar Team Eindhoven 

Cruiser (new car: Stella ?) – they are turning a shipping container into an oven for production and plan to reveal their car on July 4.

Eindhoven BWSC 2017 pre-race news coverage (they came 1st in the Cruiser class)

NL  Looks on track  Solar Team Twente 

Challenger (new car: Red E) – they are already producing regular vlogs, and have a vlog for February (Dutch only). They have revealed their design, which is a GaAs catamaran (see the animation here). They will run a MOOC explaining the design of their 2015 car.

NL  Looks on track  Top Dutch Solar Racing 

Challenger (new team: see my team bio) – they have made good progress on fabrication as well as doing promotion.

NL  Looks on track  Vattenfall Solar Team (Delft) 

Challenger (new car: Nuna X) – these are the champions formerly known as Nuon. See their 2017 aftermovie.

PL  Looks on track  Lodz Solar Team 

Cruiser (Eagle Two) – they have produced a solar baby, which is a prize that lasts.

PL  Hmmm  PUT Solar Dynamics 

Cruiser (new team) – they are ready to begin 3D-printing some prototypes.

RU  Hmmm  Polytech Solar 

Cruiser (new car) – no news on the new design as yet.


public domain photo

SG  Looks on track  Singapore Polytechnic 

Cruiser (SunSPEC 5) – they have new motors and new doors.

SE  Looks on track  Chalmers Solar Team 

Challenger (new team: see my team bio) – their final render resembles the car of the South African NWU team. They have been working on their suspension.

SE  Looks on track  Halmstad University Solar Team 

Challenger (new team: see my team bio) – they are planning a bullet car, much like Michigan’s 2017 entry.

SE  Looks on track  JU Solar Team 

Challenger (new car) – they have a rolling test chassis. The body design seems long and thin.

SE  Looks on track  MDH Solar Team 

Challenger (MDH Solar Car) – they have been doing some testing.

CH  Looks on track  Solar Energy Racers 

Challenger (SER-3) – they raced this car in South Africa.

TW  Looks on track  Kaohsiung / Apollo 

Cruiser (new car: Apollo IX) – they have been making some carbon-fibre seats.

TH  Hmmm  Siam Technical College 

Cruiser (new car: STC-3) – no news on the new design as yet.

Siam Technical College BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they raced in the Cruiser class)

TR  Hmmm  Dokuz Eylül University (Solaris) 

Challenger (new car) – they expect the new car to be 44% more efficient than the 2015 model.


public domain photo

GB  Looks on track  Ardingly College 

Cruiser – this high-school team came 6th in the iESC Cruiser class.

GB  Looks on track  Cambridge University 

Cruiser (new car: Helia) – they are busy with fabrication.

GB  Looks on track  Durham University 

Challenger (new car: Ortus) – they have begun fabrication.

US  Looks on track  Appalachian State University (Sunergy) 

Cruiser (new team: see my team bio) – as with some European teams, they have been testing at an airport.

US  Looks on track  Berkeley (CalSol) 

Cruiser (new car: Tachyon) – they have a bottom shell and roll cage. They will also attend FSGP 2019.

US  Looks on track  Houston School District 

Adventure (Sundancer) – this high school team from from Houston, Mississippi is a regular visitor, because they keep winning the US high school race.

US  Looks on track  Stanford Solar Car Project 

Challenger (new car) – they have revealed their shell, which is a unique asymmetric bullet car.

US  Looks on track  University of Michigan 

Challenger (new car) – they are asking for name suggestions for the new car.

Michigan BWSC 2017 aftermovie (they came 2nd in the Challenger class)

US  Looks on track  University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project 

Cruiser (new car: Freya) – no news on the new design as yet.

UMNSVP BWSC 2015 aftermovie (they came 5th in the Cruiser class)

This page last updated 19:37 on 8 April 2019 AEST


ASC 11: Leadership


Nuon Solar Team celebrates their 2017 WSC win (photo: Anthony Dekker)

Ernest Hemingway famously said that “war is fought by human beings.” It’s the same with solar cars – they are built and raced by human beings. Or, as Solar Team Twente likes to say, they are “powered by human energy.

There are many aspects to this human side of solar car racing. I’ve written before about how little things like team clothing contribute to team cohesion. A diversity of skills is important if a team is to succeed. During the race, nutrition is one of the things necessary to keep people working at top efficiency. But today, I want to talk about team leadership.

Engineering leadership is critically important, although surprisingly little is written about it. Tracy Kidder produced a fantastic, almost ethnographic, description of real-world engineering in his 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine, but even that book has the actual leadership happening mostly in the background.

A century earlier, Leo Tolstoy opened his novel Anna Karenina with the words “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (“Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему”). That is true also for solar car teams. Many things have to be done right if a team is to succeed, but doing one thing badly is enough to stop a team in its tracks.

A team leader must, first of all, motivate team members to do their best – it is no accident that all the solar car team leaders I’ve met have been really nice people. A team leader must make sure that the overall problem of building, racing, and finding sponsorship for a solar car is broken down into manageable pieces, and that the right person is in charge of each piece – this is the essence of engineering.

A solar-car team leader must also have – and promote – a clear vision of the car that the team is going to build. It is possible to have a world-class suspension, a world-class body, world-class solar cells, and world-class everything else, and still fail, because the components were designed under different assumptions, and don’t actually fit together to make a world-class car.

A team leader must keep an eye on the critical path as well. Building a solar car for a race is one of the most challenging kinds of engineering project – one where the delivery date is fixed in stone. What project managers call the critical path is the sequence of activities which, if they take any longer than planned, are guaranteed to delay project completion. Generally, the schedule for building and testing a solar car doesn’t leave much room for that kind of schedule slippage.

One perennial question with solar car team leaders is how long it takes them to realise that there is a problem requiring the team to either (a) change the way it operates or (b) pull out of the competition. Each year, I am reminded by somebody or other of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, summarised so well in the famous data visualisation above (by Charles Minard).


Napoleon’s death march (painted by Illarion Pryanishnikov)

Napoleon began his invasion with 422,000 men, and reached Moscow with only 100,000 survivors. This was not enough to do anything, so he turned around and went home again, losing most of his remaining troops to cold and skirmishes in the process. I have often wondered at what point Napoleon realised that his plan was not working the way that it was supposed to. In a similar way, there is always a solar car team that begins a last-minute “death-march,” working until 3:00 AM each night, desperately trying to finish their car. The early hours of the morning are not a good time to be making safety-critical engineering decisions, and teams which leave it so late to panic generally don’t do very well.

But enough of Napoleon. Let us listen to some men and women who know how it’s done (translations from Dutch are my own best attempts):

Olivier Berghuis, Solar Team Twente (2017): “As team leader you are the one ultimately responsible for the success of the project. That means that you have to keep a close eye on the progress of the project’s technical, communication, and financial aspects. The mood of the team and the personal development of each team member are also critically important important responsibilities of the team leader.” (“Als teamleider ben je eindverantwoordelijk voor het slagen van het project. Dat betekent dat je de voortgang van het project op technisch, communicatief en financieel gebied in de gaten moet houden. Daarnaast is de sfeer binnen het team en de persoonlijke ontwikkeling van elk teamlid een zeer belangrijke verantwoordelijkheid van de teamleider.”)

Shihaab Punia, University of Michigan (2016): “… build the best possible team and team culture …”


Photo: Jerome Wassenaar

Irene van den Hof, Solar Team Twente (2015): “I think that I am a good listener for my teammates. I try to put a lot of emphasis on that. Everyone is young and inexperienced, and that can sometimes cause problems, but together we are indeed a team, and everyone has to reach the finish line – I make sure of that.” (“Ik denk dat ik heel goed kan luisteren naar mijn teamgenoten. Daar probeer ik ook veel aandacht aan te besteden. Iedereen is jong en onervaren en dat kan voor problemen zorgen, maar samen zijn we wel een team en iedereen moet de eindstreep halen, daar zorg ik ook voor.”)

And it’s worth repeating the excellent insights from Rachel Abril, who was on the Stanford solar car team for four years (“Go fast, but not recklessly fast. Test it. Test it again. Test it more. Use failure as a foundation for success.”):


World Solar Challenge: dark horses

Recently I made a poster of the favourites (based purely on 2015 performance) for the 2017 WSC. Here is a somewhat more subjective list of new, innovative, and rising teams. All worth watching! For more details, see my annotated list of teams.


Universities and Wine

A few people have commented on my rather tongue-in-cheek post about solar car racing and beer. I don’t think the correlation there was actually spurious – there really is a tradition of excellent engineering education in the beer-producing areas of Europe, and both the beer production and the approach to engineering education have been exported around the world.

In the USA, for example, we have the influence of Stephen Timoshenko (1878–1972) at the University of Michigan and at Stanford. And we have the influence of Friedrich Müller / Frederick Miller (1824-1888) in the brewing industry.

But lest I be accused of some kind of pro-beer bias, the chart below shows national wine consumption (consumption this time, not production) compared to the date of the oldest university in the country (excluding universities less than a century old). Here we have universities (in the modern sense of the word) growing out of the wine-drinking areas of Europe, beginning with the University of Bologna. Once again, I think the data can be understood as a case of parallel exports:


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: 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: