SYDNEY – Sporting cutting-edge designs from all over the world, dozens of impossible-looking vehicles started off on Sunday on a lengthy desert race through the heart of Australia in an effort to promote the use of solar power on this environmentally-challenged planet.
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2017, which involves 42 teams from 21 countries and a trek of 3,021 kilometers (1,877 miles) across the Land Down Under, was launched in the northern Australian city of Darwin, and is set come to a close by Oct. 15 at the finish line in Adelaide, capital of the state of South Australia.
Teams comprise of tertiary and secondary students, the biennial event’s organizers – which celebrate the race’s 30th anniversary this year – explained in a statement on their website.
“These students and their support team have achieved greatness,” the statement added. “They have engineered and built a vehicle with their own hands and powered it across some of the world’s most challenging landscape.”
There are three modalities, or classes, of the event that competitors may choose to take part in: the “Challenger Class,” which rewards speed; the “Cruiser Class,” which is a contest of practicality; and the “Adventure Class,” which is non-competitive and values inspiration.
The indisputable frontrunner to beat this year is the team Nuon Solar, made up of students at The Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, who have won every Challenger Class race since 2001 except for two occasions (2009 and 2011), when they came in second place behind Japan’s Tokai University team.
On Sunday, the Japanese squad’s sleek car, the “Tokai Challenger,” was the first to reach the Katherine checkpoint, trailed closely behind by Nuon’s “Nuna 9.”
However, two hours later, the Dutch crew’s vehicle had overtaken their main rivals.
Nuon Solar’s members were quick to celebrate it on Twitter: “We’re in first position now! 2 hours after the first control stop we overtook @tokaichallenger!”
At the next control stop, in the small town of Daily Waters, the Dutch team continued to hold the lead with an average speed of 82.3 km/hour.
Eight minutes afterwards, the Tokai Challenger got to the checkpoint with an 80.8-km/h average, followed two minutes later by the Unlimited 2.0, from Western Sydney University, clocking in with a speed of 80.5 km/h.
Contestants in the Cruiser Class travel at more moderate velocities: leading the race at the Katherine control was another Dutch-made car, the “Stella Vie” from the Eindhoven University of Technology, at 65 km/h.
The team has completely dominated the Cruiser Class since its inception in 2013, winning that year with a car named “Stella” and again in 2015 with the “Stella Lux.”
Among the other countries sending teams to this edition of the Solar World Challenge were Germany, Belgium, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong (China), India, Poland, Singapore, Iran, South Africa, Thailand, Sweden, Turkey and Taiwan.
The competition was founded in 1987 by Hans Tholstrup, a Danish-born adventurer and sustainable energy advocate who had designed a pion
eering solar car and used it to make the 4,000-km journey between Sydney and Perth in only 20 days.
The winner in 1987 was General Motors’ Sunraycer, which traversed the continent with an average speed of 67 km/h.
Over time, the race has evolved from being a triennial event to being held every two years and began to include more research universities, rather than big auto manufacturers or power corporations.
The race attempts to remind the public that renewable energies are crucial in humanity’s attempts to combat climate change – one of the most important global issues of our century – and to raise awareness of the monumental challenge it represents to our future as a species.