This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

October 24, 2007

Dutch and Japanese Teams Lead the Australian Solar Car Race

A low, flat, rectangular car drives past a crowd as a woman stands holding a flag. The car has a small hump in the center for the driver's head and three oval-shaped stumps projecting from its bottom to enclose its wheels.

"TIGA," the solar car from Ashiya University in Japan, leaves the starting gate of the Panasonic World Solar Challenge on Sunday, October 21st.

Solar cars from the Netherlands and Japan were leading on October 23rd in the two categories of solar racing at the Panasonic World Solar Challenge in Australia. The race began on October 21st in the town of Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory, and by late afternoon on the 22nd, the solar car "TIGA" from Ashiya University in Japan had already arrived in Alice Springs, about 925 miles from the starting line. The Ashiya team leads the "Adventure Class," which allows up to 8 square meters of solar cells, with no requirements for seating position, reverse lights, or handbrakes.

Early on the morning of the 23rd, the Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands arrived in Alice Springs, placing it in the lead for the elite "Challenge Class," which requires new solar cars carrying at most 6 square meters of solar cells, with seating in an upright position and with reverse lights and handbrakes. As reported on their blog, the Dutch team started the race behind Belgium's Umicore Solar Team, then overtook the Belgium team when it suffered mechanical problems, then lost most of its lead while replacing its shock absorbers. Hitting a severe storm late on the afternoon of the 22nd, the Nuon Solar Team pressed on and gained a big lead, but wore out a tire in the process, preventing the team from reaching Alice Springs before 5 p.m. See the press releases from the Panasonic World Solar Challenge and the Nuon Solar Team blog.

For most of the race, the solar cars hit the road at 8 a.m. each day and drive as far as they can go by 5 p.m. Control stops along the way keep tabs on the racers' progress, but otherwise the racers can proceed unhindered. The sole exception is in Alice Springs, where all the leading teams had to stop on October 23rd. On the 24th, the race proceeds again, with teams leaving at controlled times from Alice Springs. As for the U.S. teams in the race, the University of Michigan has struggled after a crash during the qualifying races and the Stanford Solar Car Project has had to deal with some electrical problems, so neither team reached Alice Springs on the 23rd. The team from a high school in Houston, Mississippi, is still in the race but lags far behind the pack, having not yet reached the Tennant Creek control stop, which is 613 miles from the start. To keep track of the race, see the Panasonic World Solar Challenge "Live Event" Web page and the blogs from the University of Michigan Solar Car Team and the Stanford Solar Car Project.