European Solar Challenge 2016
On September 21st two car loads of CUER team members, trailering Evolution, left Cambridge to travel to an old F1 track in Belgium. Circuit Zolder was the setting for the iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC), the first 24hour solar race. The race layout allowed two sessions charging the battery from the mains, allowing additional run-time overnight.
We arrived at Zolder in the afternoon, leaving enough time to find the campsite, set up tents and head over to the preparation area to do some final tests on the car. After a late night finishing work on the new driver control system, installed in Evolution for testing before use in the 2017 car, we headed to bed for our first night camping.
The following day we had our first attempt at passing scrutineering in the morning, passing the general section with only minor adjustments to our seat fixing mechanism. A few fixes for the indicators were required before passing both the electrical and mechanical section of scrutineering. Problems were encountered with the rear visibility, leading to the rear camera position being adjusted, while two team members jumped in the Landie to buy some rear view mirrors. Finding mirrors took longer than anticipated, resulting in the days scrutineering ending before the mirrors were installed. Working into the evening (after a pause for the introductory BBQ!), we got the wing mirrors installed to attempt scrutineering first thing the following morning.
On the 23rd of September the iESC got underway in earnest, with talks on health and safety, pit protocol, and race organisation attended by the team chief and race commission representative. Qualifying events got underway in the afternoon, with team presentations and the KO chicane the first two to occur. Working around the qualifying events, we cleaned the canopy and established a simple race strategy, including driver change-over times. At the end of the day the drivers were allowed a 2 hour training session on the track, gaining experience of how fast different corners could be taken and the energy used per track. A slight hitch at the end of the night involved the flood lights on the track turning off before all the solar cars had returned to pits, stranding Evolution (without headlights) on the first corner.
Our allocated pit was next to Team Cambria from Columbia, a new team who set out to design and build a solar car for the iESC with only 3 months notice. Cambria were still building their car as scrutineering times and qualifying events came and went, but still managed to find time to help us out, lending tools or a hand when needed.
The 24 hour race began at 1pm on the Saturday, with Hugh Perkins our first driver. A designated driver contact kept notes of Hugh’s experiences around the track to optimise our route. Driver change overs happened every two hours, with the late night/early morning drivers taking speed naps and stocking up on energy drinks before driving. In the early evening, all solar car teams were very excited to see Cambria finish their car and have it move under its own power! The event organisers arranged a hasty scrutineering session, before allowing the Colombian team to drive their car around the track for the first time. Sadly they returned to the pits after completing only one lap, their motors having overheated massively.
A tense first charging session for CUER occurred just before midnight, with careful watch over the batteries to ensure the fast charging didn’t cause overheating. Driving through the night went past without mishap, as we modified our brake lights to act as rear lights, at a dimmer setting than usual.
Coming up to the early morning laps, a general desire for breakfast was expressed, leading to team chief breaking out the 3kg of steak bought the previous day. A 5am steak frying session followed, boosting energy levels for the final stage of the race. After the sun had fully risen we attempted our fastest lap, overtaking a Tesla, Twente and Punch Powertrain in one lap achieving a 3min 17sec time and a very excited driver!
The final two driver changes passed smoothly, leading to the driver who started the race also being the one to finish it. Optimisation of energy use became a very careful game, leading to 3% charge remaining in the battery on entering the final lap. A last minute push resulted in 188 laps being completed, a total distance of 752km covered in 24hours!
Precise energy management over the last few laps led to a rather tense parade lap following the race, with many teams concerned that they’d have insufficient power to drive the extra distance. Indeed, one of the Bochum cars was towing another around the track! At the request of all the teams the organisers agreed that Cambria should also join the parade lap, using one of the circuit’s vehicle transport trucks to bring their car along.
The celebratory atmosphere carried on to the awards ceremony, where Twente were awarded 1st place, Punch Powertrain 2nd place and Team Cambria the much deserved, individually polled award for Team Spirit.
After an afternoon spent packing up the car and all our equipment, we joined the other solar car teams at a party in the bar next to the track. By this point some members of the team had been awake for over 36 hours, leading to car loads of sleeping people heading home the following morning.