Chasing the sun – The world’s greatest solar-powered race

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is a 3000km motorsport marathon from Darwin to Adelaide using nothing but solar power. Crossing almost the entire length of Australia’s Northern Territory – as well as most of South Australia – the race passes through some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet. But the brutal temperatures provide the perfect conditions for racing solar-powered vehicles, and the race attracts competitors from all over the world.

(Credit: Amy Stockdale)
(Credit: Amy Stockdale)

Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUEM) was one of three UK teams involved in the 2015 event, which took place in October. The Student Engineer spoke to Tobias McBride, head of business & sponsorship, and Jonny Muir, external communications officer, about the team’s time in Australia and its plans for the future.

“The race itself is probably one of the most challenging on the planet and we knew it would not be a walk in the park,” said Tobias. “Unfortunately, in the first week of testing, our motor encountered a severe technical fault which, effectively, meant it was unusable. Despite this, we passed scrutineering well and did complete the 3022km of the WSC.”

(Credit: Mike Wilson)
(Credit: Mike Wilson)

“It was disappointing and frustrating for the team, of course, but we have come out of it stronger, more focused and more determined to make our car the very best in the world.”

The misfortune that DUEM suffered with its motor meant that its car finished outside the official classification. Other UK representatives also found the going tough, with Cambridge University failing to complete the full distance under solar power, and Ardingly College finishing mid-table in the Challenger class.

“Cambridge have been our friendly rivals for a very long time and, although we come at the challenge from opposing angles in terms of design in particular, we both have the goal of really showing the world just what solar power can do,” said Jonny.

(Credit: Amy Stockdale)
(Credit: Amy Stockdale)

“This is also true for Ardingly Solar – a UK school team entering the challenge for the first time. It was great to see not just university students but the next generation of engineers inspired to do something outside of their school time and come all the way to Australia to do so.”

Next up for the team at Durham will be either the European Solar Challenge in Belgium, or the South African Solar Challenge, both of which get underway in September 2016. According to Jonny, the events will be the ideal warm-up as DUEM prepares for another attempt at the World Solar Challenge in two year’s time.

(Credit: Amy Stockdale)
(Credit: Amy Stockdale)

“We are looking at undertaking either the Belgium event which runs from 23rd to 25th September or the South African Solar Challenge, which takes place from 24th September until 1st October,” he said.

“This will be an ideal opportunity to test the car out and ensure all the refinements, tweaks and enhancements we have made are performing at their absolute best. There will be no better preparation for the 2017 World Solar Challenge than one of these two events and we are hugely excited by the possibility of doing this.”

For more information, and to stay up to date with the team’s progress, visit www.duem.org.