To say the 2011 Veolia World Solar Challenge — a 1,900 mile race for solar powered cars across the center of Australia from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south — has been an explosive event is not only true, but something of an understatement.
The winner, Team Tokai from Japan, crossed the finish line after a 32 hour, 45 minute journey in their car Tokai Challenger 2. They were followed by a close second place Nuon team from the Netherlands, who drew a time of 33.5 hours.
Even for the winners this race, from the beginning, has been a grueling one. On Sunday October 16, 42 teams from 21 countries took to the starting line in Darwin. Everyone must have known how difficult this race was going to be. After all, the Australian outback is a brutal, unforgiving landscape and 1,900 miles is a long way. But the race rules haven’t made the job any easier. The event is conducted in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide and all teams must be fully self-sufficient. During the journey there are seven mandatory check points where observers are changed and team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather and their own position in the field. Here teams may perform the most basic of maintenance only – checking and maintenance of tire pressure and cleaning of debris from the vehicle.
As the race revved up toward its conclusion, no one could have imagined how tough it was going to be. On day two, according to race organizers, the three leading teams, Tokai, Nuon and the University of Michigan, were forced to call stop at Wauchope after police closed the route in both directions due to arson fires raging in the desert and burning across the highway.
Day three was just another day in the outback. The sun beat down as usual, but wind gusts kicked up dust devils and made handling the low-slung, winged vehicles a chore to pilot. As if that wasn’t enough, the vehicle of Team Philippines began to overheat just after its team had called it a day. The battery pack generated enough heat to set the car on fire. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished and the crew was able to get the vehicle moving again.