Written by: The Mechanical Engineering students of UKZN
After an eventful journey from Pretoria to Bloemfontein in Hulamin-iKlwa, the solar car we had entered into the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge, we woke in Bloemfontein for the first time with a working vehicle. We arrived at the start line at 5am and set up a stand for our top shell so that we could remove the panels from Hulamin-iKlwa to angle them directly at the rising sun. It turned out to be a beautiful day in Bloemfontein so we spent about two hours charging our depleted batteries before setting off…
We set off for Colesburg at 10am with a nicely charged battery – our first loop of the race. The Sasol Solar Challenge is an eight day race. Each day consists of a total distance to travel (200-300 km), however there are also loops which the teams can choose to do to maximise the total distance travelled in the day. These loops vary from 50km to 150km and the number of loops a team can do is unlimited however, the distance is only added to the day’s total if the loop is completed.
A sudden gust of wind caused our canopy to fly off in spectacular style. Determined to finish the loop, we repaired the canopy using duct tape and cable ties.
We arrived at the beautiful Gariep Dam after our best day yet, completing 328.7 km. Team spirits were high as this was the first day we realised the true potential of Hulamin-iKlwa.
The next day, for the first time, we started the race on time at 8am as we made our way to Graaf-Reinet. The loops on this leg were particularly long but with reports of bad weather ahead we decided to embrace the sun and complete a second loop. This meant we had to trailer back to make it to the finish line before the 5.30 pm cut off. This proved to be a wise decision as we completed 396.6 km, our greatest distance for the race and finished in second place for the day.
The next day, Graaf-Reinet to Port Elizabeth, was relatively uneventful and we managed to complete 388.5 km. We were now only about 250km behind North West University (NWU) who were still the first South African team. Day 6 of the race took place between Port Elizabeth and Knysna. We had a rocky start to the day as we had to travel through morning city traffic and a wrong turn took us through a crowded taxi rank. We completed 320km, not our greatest day, but about 180km more than NWU who had encountered problems with their batteries.
We were now only about 44km behind NWU with only two days left to close the gap. Knysna to Swellendam was certainly one of the most scenic parts of the race as we travelled along the iconic Garden Route. There was also a change in the terrain, as the roads were hillier than the first part of the race. However the hills were no challenge for Hulamin-iKlwa and we managed to complete 371.1 km which put us in second place for the day. We were now 29km behind NWU. We knew that it would all come down to the last day; Swellendam to Cape Town.
We spent the night in Swellendam carefully strategising how we could overtake NWU on the last day. We woke up early to overcast weather and almost no sun but there were reports of clear skies ahead. We put the car on the trailer for the first part of the leg to avoid the dense fog that had developed around Swellendam. We then proceeded to complete two loops before heading off to Cape Town.
A large concern about our car, with regards to weight and motor selection, was whether it would make it over Sir Lowry’s Pass, the steepest hill of the entire race. Failure to overcome this hill would essentially cost us 60km. With confidence in our calculations and strategy, we tackled the hill. It was at this point that we knew simply getting to the finish line would ensure us victory as NWU had only completed one loop. With smiles on our faces we completed the last 50km with motorcycles marshals escorting us into Cape Town. We arrived at the University of Cape Town to many cheers from the crowds that had gathered. After all the teams arrived we were officially named South African Champions, placing third overall and breaking the record for the furthest distance travelled by a South African solar team; 2418.3 km. We also won the Tom Tom Telemetry award for the best strategy.
The idea of solar car racing is not to directly set the benchmark or strict design for cars of the future. Instead it aims to inspire technologies and innovations that get passed down to current production cars, much like the case of formula one technology filtering down. Examples of how these solar cars could lead to greener vehicles is the special attention to aerodynamic and lightweight design, high efficiency electric DC motors, high density battery packs and tyres with decreased rolling resistance.
After the race and realisation that we had finished as the top South African team, with a day and a half less racing then the other teams, we knew that celebrations were in order.
We would like to thank all our sponsors for making our dream a reality especially to our three major sponsors the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Hulamin and the Technology Innovation Agency.