Stanford Solar Car: Let The Race Begin!

In September, we told you that the Stanford Solar Car team was ready to race in Australia as part of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Well, the engineering students started the 1,885-mile long race on Sunday, in Darwin, NT (Northern coast of Australia).

Sundae racing in the Australian Outback! – Stanford Solar Car Instagram

They sent us an email to let us know how the race is going, and the least we can say is that Sundae – yes, they named their solar car after an ice-cream! – is giving them a hard time. Here’s what the Stanford team wrote us:

“Day 1 in the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge has come to a close! Here’s our update:

  • Race Position: 9th
  • Location: Daly Waters, NT
  • Rachel Abril had the first driving shift of the day to get us out of downtown Darwin with a lot of passing traffic.
  • We had a tire blow in the first hour, but were able to replace the tire and get back on the road in a record 6 minutes!
  • We did a 1/2 hour control stop in Katherine, NT, where Auden Ehringer began her driving shift.
  • We finished at the second control stop, Daly Waters, with 4 minutes to spare.
  • We raced 588km at an average speed of 73 mph. 2,412km left to go.”

Knowing there are approximately 42 university and high school teams from around the world participating in the World Solar Challenge, we can only congratulate Stanford for their 9th position. And, unlike many of these teams composed of a majority of graduate students, Stanford’s team has a majority of undergraduate students.

If you wonder what the race looks like, we have the answer, “There are 9 control stops between the start and finish. The solar car driver must pull in, get themselves out of the car, and hit a button to mark their time. The team then has 30 minutes to re-gas its convoy, go to the bathroom, and rest – it cannot touch the car during this time or it will be penalized. The next driver will then enter the car and continue to the next control stop, or until 5:00 PM (whichever comes first).”

A typical race day starts at 8:00 AM and finishes at 5:00 PM, with approximately two 30-minute control stops. The Stanford team mentioned they drive 8 hours each day, switching drivers whenever they arrive at a control stop. Their three drivers, Ashe, Auden, and Kate, rotate until the team is required to pull over at 5:00 PM.

Roman Decca, the team’s Business Lead, explained, “Wherever we are on the side of the highway, we pitch a camp until the next day when we can begin driving again. After 5:00 PM, the team tilts the array toward the sun to let the battery charge as the sun goes down.”

As you can imagine, Sundae is not the only car to cross the Australian Outback during the World Solar Challenge. Stanford has actually five cars in its solar car convoy:

  1. Scout – finds suitable sites if the solar car needs to pull over and takes photos of the car during the race.
  2. Lead – travels ahead of the solar car within 500m to point out obstacles in the road, road surface changes, and large oncoming vehicles like road trains. Road trains are essentially American semis with 2-5 trailers attached, and cause drafts that the solar car driver must compensate for.
  3. Chase – mission control for the solar car. Here, the telemetry person gets a live feed of the car’s battery, array, and other characteristics. These data points get fed into our strategy model, which tells our strategy lead how fast to go. Our strategy lead relays this information to the “chase radio” person, who radios the solar car driver directions on speed, road conditions, oncoming vehicles, and fun facts to keep them alert. The observer is a non-team official who is with the team at all times during the race to ensure rule compliance. He/she sits in the front seat watching (and listening) over everything.
  4. Trailer – the vehicle that carries a majority of our equipment, personal items, and provides comfortable space for those not in positions to relax. This car travels out of sight, but within radio range of 1, 2, and 3.
  5. Hertz – a Hertz moving truck that can transport our car when it’s not driving and carries our backup topshell/array, should something happen to our race topshell/array. This car also travels out of sight, but within radio range of 1, 2, and 3.

Roman said, “Each vehicle has someone assigned to the radio and someone assigned to drive — everyone else get the opportunity to relax until the next control stop where the team will switch shifts.”

It is worth noting that the Stanford team has already got featured by the World Solar Challenge for having the best gender balance of any team in the challenge (45% women, 55% men). Congrats, Stanford, we wish you the best for the rest of the race!

The race will end in a few days in Adelaide, SA (Southern coast of Australia).

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