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Panek in the cockpit of Soleon.
the Gauntlet

World Solar Challenge wraps up

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The gaze of Calgary's media is focused once more on the University of Calgary Solar Car Team as it cruises through the Australian outback for the World Solar Challenge. Passing another competitor proved to be the most recent highlight on Wednesday's leg of the 3,021 km race, having already passed the halfway mark on Tuesday.

"There are two classes," explained Natalie Panek, acting as team representative in Calgary while the other members race down under. "The first is Open Class, which means you can buy any type of materials you want, and then the Production Class means that you can only buy off-the-shelf materials, so if you have the silicon cells [like the U of C], you're going to be production."

After Wednesday's hard day of racing, Panek excitedly passed on stories of creepy bugs, huge spiders, and dead kangaroos, along with the latest update of the U of C's progress.

"We passed another car, and we're first in the production class," she said. "I'm really excited for them. It sounds like [the North American Solar Challenge], just because the first two days they had some problems with the motor overheating, which they fixed, and then smooth sailing ever since."

The news places the team in 11th overall. The first-place team in the Open Class, University of Twente's Nuna 3 from Holland, finished the race Wed., Sept. 28 at 1:41 p.m. If the U of C continues its pace of 500 km a day, they should reach the finish line late on Friday.

Conducting media presentations and representing the project back home, Panek keeps in daily contact with the team's Business Manager Garett Brett.

"They got a company to buy them a satellite phone," she said. "When he phones, it's just brief updates on how they're doing, what's going on, what I'm doing on my end."

Panek has been plenty busy on her end, including preparation for a presentation at a public report by U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten in the near future for a crowd of a few thousand.

When the team returns in early October, preparations will begin right away for the next race. While there was only nine months to prepare for this year's race, they'll have two whole years to get ready for NASC 2007, giving them plenty of time to make improvements.

"One obvious thing [to change in the future] is aerodynamics," said Panek. "You can tell from how the cars look that some are more aerodynamic than others, so we're going to try to improve that for sure."

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