An exciting adventure is about to get underway as 14 teams prepare to take on a gruelling 8-day, 2 000 km spectacle across South Africa, attracting some of the brightest young engineers from across the globe, this is the 2016 Sasol Solar Challenge!
Very unfamiliar with the whole setup that makes up one of these wonderful creations, I headed out to Zwartkops Raceway to have a closer look at the inner working of a solar-powered car and the team behind it.
Upon arrival, I was immediately taken aback by the sheer enthusiasm of the competitors, cheering on their silent creations as various teams were busy with their qualifying runs around the main circuit, the result of which would determine their starting position on Saturday, 24 September.
The design of each car is unique, since every team is challenged to design, build, manage, and drive their own custom solar-powered car. Innovation is the name of the game.
Accordingly, each car must undergo a very strict scrutineering session, where officials ensure every regulation is met. All the participating cars are fully road-legal, sporting lights, indicators and even a horn.
Whilst speaking to a member from the TUT University team, I was surprised to learn just how much time and effort goes into creating one of these EV’s, the Sun Chaser 2 (TUT’s car), for instance, has been in development for more than a year, and cost a staggering R2-million to build. This is shocking when you consider that the TUT-team is seen as an underdog team, with a smaller budget than some of the bigger international teams.
The Sun Chaser 2’s body is made using carbon fibre, and weighs around 260 kg’s. The car is also fitted with a mandatory data-transponder, making it possible for the team to check up on their car in real time, via WiFi.
It’s interesting to know that the Sun Chaser 2 captures more solar-charge than is necessary to power the vehicle. This means on every outing the EV is actually capturing, and then storing, excess solar-power, which can then be used to power the car at a later state, if need be.
This whole project is a testament to what is possible through innovation, creativity, and team-work.
This year, the competition is tougher than ever before, with the Tokai University (from Japan) being seen as the favourite. Team Tokai won the event in 2008, 2010, and were tied with North West University (SA) in 2012.
Sadly, the North West University team suffered a pretty big accident whilst out on their qualifying run, meaning they won’t be competing in this year’s event.
The 14 national – and international teams will depart from the CSIR in Pretoria, and will aim to complete the 2 000 km journey across the continent, ending in Cape Town on 1 October. Along the way, competitors will make stops at Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Gariep Dam, Graaff-Reinet, Port Elizabeth, Sedgefield and Swellendam.
This will surely be an event worth following…
If you want to know more about the event, route, teams or EV’s, visit www.solarchallenge.org.za!