World Solar Challenge

Day 5 – Sunshine and Daisies in Hell and High Water

Geezus. What the hell is going on. Today was by far the craziest day on the race. We faced fire, smoke, rain, thunder, lightning and abundant sunshine all in one day. Read on.

We started the day with a fantastic morning charge, and the day was looking great. Our array was rocking, we were passing teams left and right, and cruising at up to 76 kph without significantly draining our pack. Our position over the last couple days has moved up a few places, and now we’re chasing the Swiss at 16th place (out of 35 teams). With all the challenges we’ve faced and overcome, we’re proud to be in that position. We also needed to gain time to make the Alice Springs checkpoint since you can only miss one checkpoint before being required to trailer your solar car.

We hit the Alice Springs checkpoint in the early morning (the closest we came to city driving yet) and cruised through. For the rest of the day, we got even more sunshine, allowing us to hit our highest speed yet. Things were looking good for the SEVT, but the weather gods did not have more sun in store for us.

Our scout and ground crew back home reported gathering clouds, and we knew we were headed into some crazy weather. At the mid-afternoon Kulgera checkpoint, we had gained two hours on the next team, and officials were also reporting brush fires up ahead. We scrambled out of Kulgera and straight into ever-increasingly grey skies. Below is our strategy team trying to figure out how to deal with the situation.

About a half hour out of Kulgera, we could see smoke billowing in the distance. As we neared, we could even see flames in the distance and the fire got closer to the road the further south we went. We were shortly in a hellish wasteland of burning shrubbery and scorched earth. The scene was surreal. Below is the solar car passing the scorched shoulder – we could literally see the brush and trees burning.

We first hit rain at around 2-3pm. Lauren was unfazed, and we kept charging through the rain, no matter how hard it got. Rain-X and a little silicone on the canopy seal go a long way. We dropped our speed to account for the drop in array power, but never stopped moving forward. We don’t give up that easily.

The weather stayed grey and by 4pm our array was producing no power at all. We decided to stop about 20 minutes early to avoid completely emptying our battery pack when we found a reasonable camping site. We gathered our cars and built a covering from the rain so we could cook dinner and stay reasonably dry. I’m currently writing this post from the front seat of our chase vehicle while it’s pouring outside. Maybe we’ll get some sun tomorrow to keep going, otherwise we may need to trailer south towards Adelaide. For now, we’re sleeping in the trailer, tents and the cars while this weather clears out. We’ll let you know how tomorrow turns out.

Major props to Annette and Andy Batzer, the parents of one of our students. They joined us in 2009 and came back to support the team. They have been there time and time again to help cook, manage and take care of every other little thing that we forgot. Today, they set up a shelter and cooked us some fantastic spaghetti in ludicrous amounts. A huge thank you to Andy and Annette for the massive amount of work they have put into making this trip a success.

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Hidden Valley: Day 2 – Afternoon update

We ended up working pretty late last night to get the car ready for driving today. We still have a lot of work to do but progress is good.

A little about what’s happening right now: We are at Hidden Valley, a race track near the city of Darwin. Before the race starts all teams must undergo scrutineering, where race officials inspect the car to make sure it passes all technical regulations; all cars then complete a time trial to determine start order.
The track is pretty animated right now. All teams are making last minute adjustments and modifications to get their cars in race-ready shape. It’s fun to see the different vehicles and teams. Couple quick stats: There are 37 teams registered to compete as of the Scrutineering Draw announced an hour ago: http://www.worldsolarchallenge.org/page/view_by_id/33
21 different countries are represented.
While part of the team works on the car the rest of the team is getting together all other race equipment. Here Bruce and Adam hold up our 8ft anemometer tower, which will be mounted on our lead car.
We still have a lot of work to do.. so it’s looking like another long night. We have a couple more team members arriving tonight and tomorrow.
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