After a start in pole position and an intensive five-day race, the Punch Powertrain Solar Team finished on the podium, in 3rd place. In addition to the bronze medal, they brought home the innovation prize for their clever innovation that allows the car to “sail” in side wind.
World Solar Challenge
This race for solar cars takes place every 2 years and is a journey of 3021 kilometres on the public roads of the Australian Outback. Between October 8th and 15th, 42 teams from 21 countries competed in the race in 3 different classes.
Although the race officially ended on October 15th, the winners of the challenger class passed the finish line on October 12th.
This edition was the seventh in which a group of Belgian engineering students participated. During the previous edition in 2015 they finished fifth. This year’s top favourite – Dutch Nuon Solar Team from Delft – won the race for the third time, while The American Michigan Solar Car Team came in second.
Race pilot on the team
This year a professional race pilot, Bert Longin, joined the team as one of the three pilots. For Bert, this is the second time joining the Belgian solar team. In addition to racing, he has assisted with the design of the car and has supported the team with racing advice.
One day prior to the race all teams drove qualifying rounds on the race circuit in Darwin. Their performance was decisive for their position in the race, as every team could start 30 seconds after its predecessor. With only 2 minutes and 3 seconds Bert Longin succeeded to drive the fastest lap, placing the Belgian team in pole position for the actual race.
Every edition of the Solar Challenge the Australian Research Institute rewards the team with the most innovative car component with “CSIRO Technical Innovation Award”.
Like in previous edition, this year’s award went to the Belgian team. This time they were awarded for their unique concept of wheel control, which enabled to turn the back wheels slightly. This results in the car being put slightly obliquely on the road, enabling it to “sail” in side wind. This action reduces the air resistance and harvests the energy of the side wind for propulsion – hence increasing the speed of the vehicle.
5 exiting race days
After the team started in pole position, the support car noticed very high energy consumption statistics. One of the back wheels appeared to be dragging, which forced the team to make a technical stop and set them back 10 minutes. Some competitors used this opportunity to pass them by, resulting in a 6th place in the ranking after the first race day.
After a half day of racing during the second day Punch Two passed by University of Sydney. Without further technical difficulties the day was concluded with a fifth place in the ranking.
In the following days the weather and the strategic choices around it played a crucial role. In the event of clouds the teams could either drive faster, to reach the sun again, or slow down to save energy. In an evening meeting a strategy was decided in cooperation with a weather expert from KMI (the Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute).
Cloudy weather conditions on day 3 forced all teams to slow down. Nonetheless, Punch Powertrain Solar Team was able to improve their position significantly, thanks to their strategy. While they started the day 70 kilometres behind the 4th team, they were able to reduce this distance to
3 kilometres at the end of the day.
Day 4 & 5
The gap with the Japanese team was quickly closed, placing the Belgian team 4th in the ranking. After showdown between both teams, Punch Two could establish its position and build further lead.
A while later they were forced to stop and replace a flat tire. The whole operation took only 5 minutes and they continued their pursuit. After passing by Twente, the team was able to secure third place, which they kept until the finish line.