2017 World Solar Challenge Wrap Up

After a summer filled with hard work, long nights, and testing trips, the whole team was excited to depart to Australia as the long-awaited Bridgestone World Solar Challenge was on the horizon. Our initial race crew arrived in the early days of September in Melbourne to receive Polaris after shipping, and then trailer up to Darwin before the rest of the team arrived. On September 12th, our full race crew landed in Australia, and we were ready to start preparations for testing. Not long after settling in at the Palmerston Senior College we were already hard at work to make sure Polaris was ready for its upcoming roadworthiness inspections. Thanks to the amazing facilities and hospitality we were shown at the school, we were able to adjust to our new schedules and surroundings, which included lots of hot days with temperatures that we were not quite used to in September.

Team mates at testing at Cox Peninsula.
Testing at Cox Peninsula.

After less than 2 weeks we passed our inspections without issue, and were ready to move our testing from airstrips and parking lots to Cox Peninsula. Here we were able to not only see how Polaris performed in the new conditions, but also how the team functioned in standard operations such as pullovers, overtakes, and roadside repairs. These days were very useful in simulating race conditions, and got us all into a race-ready mindset.

Dynamic Scrutineering at Hidden Valley.
Dynamic Scrutineering at Hidden Valley.
Our official licence plate.
Our official licence plate.

The race officially started on Sunday, October 8th, at 8:00AM. We were set to start in the 6th position, and we set out of Darwin under beautiful clear skies and strong sunlight. As expected, the road was very crowded on the first day, as all the teams were pushing to establish their position to start the race. We were fortunate enough to end the day at a public camp site, which helped ease the team into the harsh conditions of the Outback.

On Day 2, we started driving in close proximity with a few other teams and were vying to stay ahead of the pack. We managed to maintain a steady cruising speed for most of the day, and completed our first complete race day without any issues, even getting ahead of two teams thanks to our fast operations at control stops and campsites. As it was Thanksgiving Day, we had a small celebration at night with some local meat pies and music, which helped us all relax from the stresses of the race.

Happy team mates at the campsite.
Happy race crew at our campsite.

On Day 3 we set our sights on Alice Springs, however as soon as the sun started rising we faced heavy cloud cover that reduced the effectiveness of our morning charge. With a careful eye on the batteries, we began the drive at 8:00 AM, and hoped that the weather would improve. As the hours went by without much hope for good sunlight to recharge, we were forced to reduce our speed. Due to the weather conditions, many teams were forced to stop their race, so we had to be careful and optimize our strategy to balance our speed with our remaining battery charge.

After a rainy night, we were woken up early on Day 4 by severe winds and thunderstorms. While the storm was certainly unexpected in the Outback, fortunately we were well prepared, and managed to pack everything up quickly. After waiting in the cars for around an hour, the rain stopped and we prepared to start driving. With our weather reports showing cloud cover for the next few hundred kilometers, we continued the drive at around 50km/h as we passed through Alice Springs.

The team protecting the top areobody under the canopy a from the storm.
Sheltering the top aerobody from the Storm.

Thursday, Day 5, started out looking very similar to the previous days, with very minimal sunlight detectable during our morning charge. However, based on our weather information, we were confident that we would be able to reach clear skies by the early afternoon, and decided to increase speed to escape the cloud cover. By the end of the day we were all relieved to finally be able to witness the weather that we had expected from the Outback, with strong sunlight lasting all the way through the day. We ended the day in the 8th spot, and found a great campsite right next to a few solar panels.

As the sun rose on Day 6, the weather was looking favourable, however we were in extremely close competition with a few of the surrounding teams. We were finally able to push Polaris a little more, and reached our highest speed for the race at around 105km/h! As we neared the end of the day however, we were hit with some very strong winds, including headwinds over 20km/h. This forced us to slow down, as the motor was consuming a lot more power to keep Polaris cruising steadily. We fell back a few places, but were only around 150km away from the finish line.

On Saturday morning, we started our day knowing that it was the last one before the race was over. We were very eager to get on the road and finish the final leg into Adelaide. We hit traffic relatively soon as we neared the city, but were able to successfully complete the race in 11th place! After two years of hard work and determination, we had completed the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, traversing the worst storms the region had seen in over 20 years!

The Blue Sky Team at the finish line in Adelaide.
The Blue Sky Team at the finish line in Adelaide.
Finish line celebrations.
Finish line celebrations.

Now that the team is back in Canada, they are looking ahead to a full team transition. During the next few months the current team leads will help the new team adjust to their roles and make sure they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to design the next solar car, while the new leadership decides which direction they want to take the team. All of this will come together when we create our tenth-generation solar car which we will bring to Australia for the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge!

Looking back at the race and to the entire cycle, our team has been through laughter, tears, and countless all-nighters. With many new races to look forward to, several members have taken the initiative to get the ball rolling and gather together a whole new group of ambitious individuals for a new adventure. As for the alumni who are graduating or leaving the team, well… the team never leaves them. Together, we are and will always be the Blue Sky family!

Testing on Cox Peninsula

Last week, Horizon passed the inspection by the Northern Territory Road Authority which means we were cleared to test on the highway along Cox Peninsula. It is the only public highway in the Northern Territory that solar cars are permitted to drive on.

Each day, we wake up at 6am to the sound of Amy Winehouse’s rendition of Valerie as our alarm clock. After a quick breakfast, we have our team meeting at 7am where we go through the plan for the day. We then put Horizon into the trailer and head out to Cox Peninsula, a 30-minute drive from our accommodations in Palmerston. Once we arrive at the starting point of our testing route, we perform a thorough check of each system in the car down to the very last bolt. When all is clear, we begin driving in caravan formation with the Lead vehicle out in front followed by the solar car and the Chase bringing up the rear.

Testing on the Australian roads is important because it gives us a chance to characterize the performance of the car to better understand the power consumption. It is also an opportunity for the drivers to become more familiar with the various sounds of the car so that during the race they are able to immediately identify anything that may be out of place. Lastly, we practice various procedures that may be needed during the race such as emergency pullovers, tire changes etc.

Next week we will be at the Hidden Valley racetrack for scrutineering. Only 10 days until the start of the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge! Follow our social media for the latest news and check out our Flickr for all the photos.

Inspection by Northern Territory Road Authority
Inspection by Northern Territory Road Authority


Road-side Pullover

Horizon driving along Cox Peninsula

Race Update 1 Darwin to Tennant Creek

It is almost the end of Race Day 2 and B-7 is en route to Tennant Creek control stop.

Yesterday morning, the team got up around 4am to start getting ready for the start line. B-7 had to be ready for display by 6am at Darwin State Square. B-7 departed 7th in Challenger class.

Almost as soon as we left the finish line, we encountered a small but alarming problem: the array doesn’t seem to be charging. Every watt of power is essential to get B-7 to the finish line and a malfunctioning array is detrimental. Despite the busy traffic, we decided to pull over and inspect the vehicle. Good news was that the array issue turned out to be a false alarm but bad news was that many teams have passed us and we’ve lost our advantage of 7th place. This also meant that we got stuck behind many slow moving caravans and overtaking solar vehicles is labour intensive.

By the end of day 1, we’ve caught up to many solar car teams and cleared Katherine control stop. B-7’s performance was excellent and we had no other issue whatsoever. We camped just outside of Larrimah.

Race Day 2 has been going very smoothly. The sun was out with clear blue sky and B-7 was able to overtake more solar cars. We checked in at Dunmarra control stop around 10am and continued on our journey. Despite the time lost yesterday, B-7 has been running great and we are currently at 9th place in Challenger Class.


First Australian Road Testing Day

After we have gotten the permit to test B-7 on the road, we wasted no time and started driving right away. The World Solar Challenge forbids teams to test their solar cars on the actual race route, Stuart Highway but we are allowed to test on a different highway called Cox Pennisula Rd.

In the morning, we practiced charging of the solar array and gathered data about our array performance. Then, we set out for Cox Pennisula Rd. We are already very practiced at getting B-7 out of the trailer and performing pre-drive checks but doing such tasks under the 40 degrees sun poses another challenge.

Shortly afterwards, Jane Liu, one of our three solar car drivers logged B-7’s first kilometres in Australia. We drove for about three hours on the first day and B-7 performed fantastic. We were able to practice radio communications, driving with other traffic (and other solar cars) and gather telemetry and strategy data. We plan to test B-7 more thoroughly in the next few days and fully characterize the car for the upcoming race.

Another step towards a successful 2013 World Solar Challenge!

B-7 Licensed to Drive on Australian Road

On this hot Monday afternoon, we had an inspection from the Northern Territory Department of Transportation. The officials performed a thorough check of the car’s mechanical and electrical system including suspension, turning signals, horn, and rear view camera. B-7 performed perfectly in all the tests and was granted a temporary license to test drive on the road. The official has also informed us that we are the 6th WSC team to have passed the inspection (and the 1st North American team).

This is a big milestone for the team because it gives us a whole week of testing time before WSC. More importantly, passing the initial inspection meant that B-7 has been built to WSC regulation and we will enter the static scrutineering session next week with more confidence.

Now we need to prepare the safety gears for the support vehicles and we will commence testing tomorrow morning!


Getting B-7 ready for Australian road

Since our arrival this Tuesday, we have been hard at work to get B-7 ready for testing on Australian roads. In the past, we’ve always tested our solar vehicles in Canada and arrived in Darwin just in time for the WSC events to start. This year, we recognized that there are invaluable advantages for testing in Australia because of the very different climate (35+ degrees) takes a while to get used to for the solar car drivers as well as the crew members.

Due to shipping regulations and convenience, we had to disassemble many parts of B-7. The 21kg of lithium ion batteries on B-7 had to be disconnected and packaged individually to ensure safe transportation. The brake fluids had to be drained and anything that might come loose were taken off as well. After we picked up the car on Tuesday, we first checked for any signs of damage. Luckily, the only repair we had to perform was the lexan cover of the rear view camera which came loose during transportation.

Then, we launched right into the more important tasks of getting B-7 to driving condition. The electrical team re-assembled the battery box and re-connected the entire electrical system. The mechanical team bled the brakes with new brake fluid, re-aligned the suspension and fitted our newly machined rims for the Michelin tires. There are also many miscellaneous tasks for performance improvements such as making the top aerobody weather-proof and fix the small scratches and dents on the vehicle wrap.

Here we would like to express a special thanks to B&B Steel Fabrications and Auto Solutions NT. Both machine shops have helped the team with metal work that we don’t have the proper tools for. Thank you Terry, Gaeme, Brad & Cody for taking time out of your busy schedule to help us!

After 5 days of hard work, we have completed all of our goals. Next step: inspection by the Northern Territory Road Authority!

On Thursday night, we enjoyed a visit to the local night market. Team favourite has been the paella (fried rice with seafood)