Australia’s Veolia World Solar Challenge just announced that it has crowned a new winner – team Tokai University from Japan! Team Tokai beat first runner-up Nuon Solar by a nose in this sun-powered vehicle race, sliding across the finish line in Adelaide just 30 seconds earlier. Rather than racing around a track, the unconventional race requires drivers to cross Australia’s natural terrain on 100% solar energy, facing harsh weather, inconsistent roads and even wild animals!
Team Tokai’s winning vehicle is a flat frame with a covered module that fits the driver’s head, and it is completely covered with HIT solar panels from the car’s sponsor Panasonic. Equipped with lithium-ion batteries and an electric motor, the car can reach 160 km/h, but it averaged 91.54 as it traveled south across the Australian landscape. Brief stops to seven checkpoints allowed the team to quickly fill up tires and remove road debris.
The Veolia World Solar Challenge began back in 1987 to help promote solar technology. It begins in Darwin to the North, heading south to Adelaide for the finish. The 3,021 kilometer race takes drivers at least 32 hours and 45 minutes to complete. With blazing temperatures and bushfires to avoid, the contestants mostly power up their vehicles during the day, and drive in the cooler evenings. The vehicles are unlike traditional race cars, essentially resembling photovoltaic panels on wheels, and they provide little protection for the drivers.
Team Tokai are Veolia returning champions – they nabbed first place during the last race in 2009 as well. This year, they dedicated their race toward reconstruction efforts in Japan.