We’ll admit it: We’ve never totally understood Nascar’s appeal. I mean, come on, it’s just a bunch of cars going round and round a track like a zillion times! But the World Solar Challenge? Now that is one car race we can really get behind. The event, which started way back in 1987, features solar-powered vehicles created by some of the world’s top engineering colleges. Using the power of the sun instead of polluting fossil fuels, the cars race across thousands of miles in order to advance solar and electric vehicle technology — and to achieve the satisfaction of winning, of course.
This year’s winner was Tokai University’s Tokai Challenger, a sleek vehicle that kind of resembles George Jetson’s car. Solar panels lining the top of the Japanese vehicle gave the Tokai Challenger enough power to cross the Australian Outback at an average speed of 63 miles per hour.
Cars competing in the World Solar Challenge drove from the city of Darwin in northern Australia to Adelaide in South Australia, a distance of about 1,864 miles. The Tokai Challenger made the journey in 29 hours and 49 minutes, with the Nuna 5 from Delft University hot on its heels. Third place went to Infinium from the University of Michigan. And these cars have certainly come a long way from solar vehicles that competed in early challenges: In the inaugural 1987 challenge, the winning vehicle took 44 hours and 54 minutes to travel 1,950 miles.
And while nothing tastes better than sweet, sweet victory, the World Solar Challenge isn’t just about racing. Cars developed for the competition often have huge influences on hybrid and electric vehicles that make it into the marketplace. For example, the GM E1 and Chevy Volt can both trace their roots back to the Sunraycer, the solar vehicle that won the original World Solar Challenge in 1987.