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DUEM attempts a unique 24-hour ‘Ouston Solar Challenge

Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUEM) have achieved some amazing results over the past few years; building our solar-powered car, ‘Ortus’, achieving our best results yet in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2019 and expanding our dedicated team are to name just a few. Last weekend was no exception; we took it upon ourselves to complete a unique, UK based, 24-hour solar challenge of our own, the ‘Ouston Solar Challenge’.

For anyone that doesn’t know, at DUEM we design, build and race solar-powered cars at international events. We have an ever-growing Engineering and Business team whose hard work is reflected in all that DUEM achieves.

The OSC race-team and Ortus – photo credits to Owen Foo

Over the past year at DUEM, we have been working tirelessly towards our next event, the iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC). This is the only international 24-hour solar car race and is held every 2 years at Circuit Zolder in Belgium. It is impossible to describe in this short blog the dedication, time and effort that had been put into preparation for this race, from both our Business Team to the engineering innovations introduced to give Ortus a competitive edge. However, like with so many things, COVID-19 had other plans for us and we, unfortunately, had to withdraw from iESC after deciding it was not worth putting our team members health at risk.

However, it takes more than a global pandemic to stop a solar team from racing and we immediately began searching for another challenge. This led to the creation of what we have termed ‘OSC’ or the ‘Ouston Solar Challenge’. We set ourselves the ambitious goal of completing the distance from Durham to Circuit Zolder in Belgium, within the same 24 hours as iESC would happen.

Having set ourselves this goal, our OSC team of 22 engineers, including 6 drivers, got to work making it happen. RAF Ouston, just a 40-minute drive from Durham, were gracious enough to allow us the use of their airfield, from which we mapped out a 4.5 km racetrack, using the runway and peri-track. Then, at 12pm on the 19th September 2020, our challenge began.

Ortus at Ouston Airfield – photo credits to Jack Hillier

Our plan involved solar car drivers completing roughly 2-hour stints and a ‘chase’ car would follow them closely. Inside the ‘chase’ vehicle was the chase driver, 2 engineers and our ‘race eng’, who would talk to the solar car driver and alert them to any hazards on the road as well as being the point of contact to our base, where the rest of the team could spectate or prepare the pits for the car’s return.

Challenges arose from the very start, including a rough road surface which forced us to change a total of 7 tyres. At times, we were also driving through rain and fog, which, needless to say, is less than ideal solar-car weather.

The OSC race-team during a driver change

Despite this, the event was a success, and we are so proud of how much we achieved within those fleeting 24 hours! By 12pm on the 20th September, Ortus had completed 92 laps and a total of 414 km which is well over halfway to circuit Zolder. Whilst we did not make the full distance, we were excited to have been involved in iESC, even if it was just in spirit, and the experience gained, particularly by our newer team members, will prove to be invaluable in our team’s future.

To add to our success, iESC were so impressed by DUEM’s initiative and ability to overcome challenges that we were awarded the ‘Hybrid Challenge Award’. This is a trophy that means so much to DUEM after the challenges we have faced this year and is something the OSC team will always treasure!

If you are interested in the work we do at DUEM and want to get involved or support us please don’t hesitate to contact us through social media via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or send us an email at duem.electric@durham.ac.uk.

Our website, www.duem.org, also contains information on other events we attend and our proud history.

Rachel Burstow

Hi, I'm Rachel from St Mary's college and, alongside Emily Pearson, I am Team Principal of Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUEM). I have been involved in both the engineering and business side of DUEM for the past 3 years and have found it so rewarding to get involved in such an advanced and exciting project. DUEM is the perfect way to expand your engineering skills beyond just what you learn in lectures and labs, so I'd encourage anyone who is interested to get stuck in, you won't regret it!
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