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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!