Excited. Anxious. Hopeful. These words can all accurately describe the mood within our team today since we got up at 04:00 and headed for the start line at State Square in Darwin at 05:30. Despite many of us running on less than 5 hours of sleep due to spending the entire night packing and running final checks, our adrenaline levels were higher than ever.
After unloading Viridian at the start line, we began waxing it to improve the surface quality and redoing system checks to give us peace of mind. More teams and spectators started pulling in, creating a lively atmosphere. The top teams began crossing the start line at 8:30 with 1-minute gaps in between, which meant that as the 13th Challenger team, we departed Darwin at around 08:45 with Nick in the driver’s seat.
As Viridian drove into intersections, our lead and chase vehicles quickly assumed caravan formation in preparation for exiting the city.
For Nick, driving Viridian in the city was quite rough. There was a lot of traffic, with solar cars and their caravans overtaking each other and articulating commands over radios. Once Viridian left the city confines, things were no longer as hectic. Miles of open roads extended beyond us, surrounded by trees and red dirt. However, there was more noise within the vehicle because country roads were less smooth. Meanwhile, teams overtook each other less frequently, but road trains and other cars began to emerge, imparting strong crosswinds on the much-lighter solar cars.
At 12:49, we arrived at the first control stop, Katherine, about 266 km from the start line, putting us in 9th place. A control stop is a designated area where teams change drivers and rest over a half-hour period, and there are nine such areas along the race route. The clock starts ticking from the moment the driver presses a button at the marshal desk, which means that drivers should egress as quickly as possible to sprint to the button. Similarly, the next driver should enter as quickly as possible to merge back onto the highway before other teams. At control stops, only the drivers can touch the solar car. Our second driver, Grace, was initially worried about ingress, but she pulled the procedure off very nicely, giving us a lead over Jönköping University (JU), Western Sydney, and other teams who pulled in right after us. Back on the Stuart Highway, however, the ranking fluctuated a bit, as teams that had just experienced issues before surpassed us, and we surpassed teams ahead of us that pulled over.
As I write, we are camping beside control stop #2, Daly Waters, which is 588 km from the start line. Based on our check-in time at Daly Waters, we finished day 1 at 9th out of 28 teams in the Challenger class. We were able to maintain our position because fortunately, we never had to pull over to fix critical issues today. It gets complicated, however, when there are 5 other challengers, 3 cruisers, and 1 adventure class teams sharing our campsite. As all of us will be leaving Daly Waters together, we would have to make many overtakes to gain a decent position. Stay tuned for how that’ll work!
Be back soon,