The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge – a 3022km race across central Australia, cruising at highway speeds using less power than a hairdryer; with over 50 teams from 24 countries competing it is easily the largest and most exciting Solar race in the world. We went out as a team of 16 engineers from Durham University to race our solar powered race car that we’d been building for two years. Needless to say, we were all excited!
The race itself began on the 13 October, but the teams have two weeks in the pits of Hidden Valley racetrack to make final adjustments and test the cars on the track. In this time, you form a strong bond with all the other teams from around the world, swapping spanners, fuses, and technical expertise. It may be a competition but there’s a great sense of camaraderie between everyone, we all share the same very niche hobby after all! We got on particularly well with the teams from Minnesota, Tafe South Australia, and Halmstad University!
The day before the race begins, everyone must do a qualifying lap to determine their starting position for the race – it’s a big event with members of the public coming to watch everyone race around the track. We placed 15th in qualifying out of the 50 or so teams, so we were feeling chuffed with ourselves! The real adventure began the following morning, as the cars set off from Darwin Town hall to begin the 3022km journey.
The race itself is a constant juxtaposition of dull, endless driving through the desert with high adrenaline overtakes of road-trains. For the unaware, a road-train is a huge truck carrying about four times the amount that a UK lorry would – they sometimes end up 50m long!
The rules of the race allow you to drive between 8 am and 5 pm each day, meaning wherever you are at 5 pm is where you must stop for the night, in the middle of the Australian desert. This means that the team must be fully self-sufficient to camp every night, spending each night with nothing but flat desert for hundreds of miles, and billions of stars is a highlight of the trip!
We kept a steady 15th place throughout the race, making our way between the nine control stops spread across the route. However, at the end of the penultimate day, we made a pretty drastic discovery – our estimation for state of charge was completely off and had been for the entire race. While initially disheartening, we took it on the chin and geared up to take the final day by storm. With more than enough charge in the pack, we were able to drive at 80kph for pretty much the whole day, overtaking a Swiss team to take 14th place!
At 5 pm on Friday 18 October, we reached kilometre 2830 where we took this photo – just 180km shy of the finish line.
This photo holds more emotion than I could possibly put into words, it’s the culmination of two years of hard work and dedication from just a handful of brilliant young engineers. Despite not making the full distance, as the sunset over the horizon illuminating the array one last time, we were all smiling – proud of what we had achieved.
Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUEM) is the UK’s longest running solar car team. Founded in 2002 the 50-strong team is entirely run and led by students outside of academically rigorous degrees.
To learn more about Engineering or other courses at Durham order a prospectus here
Drone footage by Jack Hillier
Cover photo by Owen Foo