U of C's Solar Car gears up to race across Australia

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Students from the University of Calgary prepare to face off with over 40 different teams from around the globe in the Panasonic World Solar Challenge Oct. 21-28. With the final few members of the team arriving in Australia Tue., the U of C Solar Car team's engine is primed and ready to go.

Since departing earlier this month, the Solar Car team has been doing a series of diagnostic tests on the car to prepare it for the race starting Sun. So far, they've encountered problems with the car's brakes locking up, but the team's business manager Adam Berti was quick to assure that so far, so good.

"Everything actually seems to be going pretty well," said Berti. "I think most of our problems were actually getting here, from flights to vehicle rentals. But we're just out on the track right now, and we just had the brakes lock up, so we just brought the car in to see why."

With a 3,000-kilometer journey from Darwin in the north, to Adelaide in the south ahead of them, it's essential that the car be in prime condition by the time the race starts on Sun., though some things are out of the team's control.

"They've pushed the race a month later this year," said Berti. "Two years ago, we went in September, so we've seen cloudy mornings here, and rain storms at night. It's added a new element because you have to take into consideration, 'Well, here's a cloudy patch, do we crank our speed up and push through it and get to some clear skies for more power, or do we go nice and slow and steady through it?"

Like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, this race isn't just about going fast. There's a lot of strategy involved in determining the best speed at any given time, and often, slow and steady is what will win the race, explained Berti.

"We've seen some of the cars on the track doing 120-130 [kilometers per hour] along the straight section, and our car will do that too." Berti said. However, because the car is storing up energy when it's going slow, and using more when it's going fast, it's all part of the strategy to figure out how much energy to use when going uphill and downhill.

The team also faces other challenges compared to those last year in the form of new regulations on the design of the car. Under the new regulations, the driver must sit upright, have a steering wheel, and must be able to get in and out of the vehicle without assistance. Because of the new rules, Berti said it is not yet known what ideas will work best. Despite these challenges, Berti was confident that his team will place within the top five.

"We're looking at finishing somewhere in the five-day range and we're only driving between eight a.m. and five p.m.," said Berti. "After that, we [have to] pull over by the side of the road because they don't want us driving at night."

In Oct. 2005 Team Soleon, the U of C Solar Car team came in first in their class at the Panasonic World Solar Car challenge in Australia.