In Race Updates: Part 1

Scrutineering, qualifying, RACE!

 

WARNING, LONG BLOG POST!

 

The past week has involved further testing, some track time, scrutineering, qualifying, supply shopping and the start of the race. We have been so busy (along with fairly limited internet access) that finding the time to actually upload these posts has been a challenge and as a result this one covers a week and is being uploaded form the third control stop in Tennant creek, NT.

 

Scrutineering

 

We were asked to present Endeavour for scrutineering on Thursday 13th at the Darwin showground. The process involves various experts, academics and volunteers, questioning the team and inspecting the solar car and its support vehicles. Passing the regulations laid out by the WSC, Northern Territory government and Southern Australia governments ensures a fair, safe and legal competition.

 

However as with any motorsport, the regulations are not explicitly clear and are open for interpretation to allow innovation. As a result many teams fail certain regulations unexpectedly when the scrutineer’s interpretation is different to their own.

 

Our results were mixed! The car was 7mm too wide and 10mm too long; we’d completely forgotten about presenting a lockable battery box; the convoy vehicles were not present (due to hire starting on the Friday); we had no decals or safety markings (British Airways that is your fault!); insufficient battery extinguishing plans (the datasheet said use a water extinguisher!). Some electronics needed double insulating and others covering up and they were dubious about the rear view camera performance. The new steering wheel design also fell foul of the regulations: apparently we were meant to telepathically interpret that a diagram about no sharp edges also meant there had to be hand holes on all sides (similar to road car as apposed to an F1 style steering wheel). Nearly all teams failed this unwritten regulation.

 

Thursday afternoon was spent correcting the faults where possible to revisit the showground on Friday with the real convoy vehicles. We cleared everything other than the decal/stickers which we were permitted to do at qualifying. It should be said that provided you are not going to be contesting the top positions then the rules are slightly flexible. They would prefer everyone races!

 

One thing that struck us all was the amount of money and sponsorship that the majority of teams have. Even our veteran Lucy commented on the quantity of ‘good’ (i.e. various copies of previous Nuon and Tokai cars) only made possible by the magnitude of sponsorship. It made us incredibly grateful for the generosity of our sponsors, but at the same time very frustrated that we cannot compete effectively almost entirely due to funding. Some teams will spend more on fuel in the race than we will have done over the previous two years on the car and all of our team logistics. We may be able to design something novel and theoretically competitive for the 2013 race, but the team needs the more financial backing and stronger industrial links to build it.

 

Nearly every single other team we spoke to was shocked to learn that “the world’s best university” had turned up with only a slightly modified car. The rest of the field and most of the new entrants have brand new vehicles, most now have a largely carbon fibre chassis or are moulded carbon fibre monocoques. We turned up with a car over twice the mass of the front runners! Many teams just could not understand why sponsorship is so hard to obtain in the UK or why the University isn’t able to give us financial backing (“…but its Cambridge, surely they’ll give you money…”. It turns out many universities pump up in excess of 50k into their teams each year! We of course know that the university funding system is not as cash rich as many countries and that UK businesses often find it hard to justify expenditure on small projects. So again a big thank you to our sponsors who do support us, be it software, hardware, materials, expertise or monetary.  We have got the car through scrutineering and are cleared to proceed to qualifying!

 

 

Qualifying

 

With no sign of the decals from BA we eventually settled on a reasonably (but still expensive) deal from a local printer. Cars decaled up we were cleared to qualify. We knew from previous track testing that the new wheel rims could make light contact with the suspension forks in hard cornering so the team decided to take a hit on the qualifying position so as not to risk damaging the car. The highway out of of Darwin is at least two lanes for hte first sixty kilometres so overtaking slower cars would not be a problem. Qualifying first was Twente with a time of 2:02.2 (iirc) with Nuon fractionally behind them at 2:02.5 (iirc). We qualified 30th out of 36, with a time of 3:11, but as mentioned this was largely due to not wanting to damage the suspension forks on the race track (there are no high speed corners or hairpin bends on the Stuart Highway).

 

Following qualifying we packed up and prepared to race!

 

 

Race Day 1 (8:30 GMT+9:30)

 

We are off… and the car is working well, Tom in the cockpit. The Police presence and escort through Darwin’s many, many intersections helps the flow of solar cars out of the city. We’re planning to run at 60km/h for the time being, although this may change depending on traffic, weather, terrain and the telemetry data (if it works – a dodgy fuse in the AC inverter in the chase car we have no telemetry radio.

 

Race Day 1 (~90km from Darwin)

 

Good running until now, we have overtaken multiple convoys including the poll sitters Twente who seemed to break down only 3km from the start line. Our first unscheduled stop: Tom calls over the radio he has lost drive power, cause unknown. But by the time we pull over things have righted themselves and we are back on our way, however slightly concerned that we may have an electrical problem lurking ahead.

 

Race Day 1 (~120km from Darwin)

 

Approaching our planed driver change time, Tom reports complete loss of power. Turns out the heat has killed the new steering wheel . An hour spent by the side of the road. Dan and Ed rig the old wheel in parallel with the new one to allow both electronic and mechanical driver control again. Lucy swaps into the driver’s seat.

 

Race Day 1 (~173km from Darwin)

 

Hayes Hill, the steepest hill on the route causes chaos. The combination of a multitude of team support vehicles, road trains and solar cars going up a steep incline meant the traffic ground to a halt. Not good for solar cars who struggle with the incline at the best of times. Endeavour, along with every other solar car we saw, stopped half way up the hill. So had to be push started to get going again. We took this decision quickly, despite it potentially carrying a time penalty, many other teams were just stood scratching their heads or considering loading their cars onto trailers on the steep hill!

 

Day 1 (263km from Darwin)

 

The lack of telemetry, hilly terrain and our extended stop for the steering wheel fault has caught us out. In an attempt to reach the first control point at Katharine on time, we pushed the battery too hard and ended up with a low voltage. No option but to trailer for the remaining race hours. Our plan to finish the race on solar power alone is over. Now we are back to beating last year’s result of 1414km under solar power. The team are obviously very disappointed, but the problems in the chase car and the steering wheel failing in the prolonged heat, were not something we could have planned for.  This leaves us in a difficult position of having to nurse a depleted (and now possibly unbalanced) battery. Trailered to Katherine control point (which had closed by the time we’d loaded up and driven there).  Day finished at 381 km.

 

Day 2 (~381km from Darwin)

 

With essentially a flat pack, we made the decision to trailer to the second control point at Dunmarra. This would put us back on track in terms of our distance target, even if it wasn’t to be solar kilometres. The Old steering wheel was fitted properly to stop the driver having to use two wheels to control the car!

 

Day 2 (~631km from Darwin)

 

Arrived at Dunmarra check point at 11:15. We hoped the battery would have recovered slightly in the 3 hours of trailering, so Endeavour was unloaded and we started again under solar power. With George driving, the next few hours passed without incident and we started to clock up some solar km. Ed constantly instructing George to alter his speed to maintain a neutral power draw.

 

Day 2 (~776km from Darwin)

 

Driver swap to Emil. Very dark bank of cloud on the horizon. Possible storm, outlook for solar kilometres doesn’t look good.

 

Day 2 (~790km from Darwin)

 

Bank of cloud turns out to be controlled burning of the bush, not good for solar cars it may as well be night. We are forced to trailer. We expect many other teams will now not complete the race under solar power due to the lack of sunlight today!

 

Day 2 (~880km from Darwin)

 

We clear the huge smoke cloud, hasty tdecision is made to try and get some solar kilometres in before the race stops for the day. George back in the car.

 

Day 2 (~895km from Darwin)

 

Decision to try solar km’s was probably a silly one, obtaining power neutrality at this time of day is impossible. We stop 15minutes early to point the array at the sun on the side of the road, we need the energy more than the distance tonight.

 

Day 3 (~895km from Darwin)

 

The sky is clear! Lucy in the car. We leave camp at 6:15 to get the array pointed at the sun. By 8am it is generating nearly 600W on the stands (much less once back on the car). Dan and Ed are still nursing the battery over telemetry but we are making good progress. We are hoping to hit Control Point 3 at Tennant Creek, 988km from Darwin, by the end of Lucy’s stint. The car is otherwise working well. We are discharging the battery slightly this morning, but it is manageable, power balance should be on the charging side by the time we clear CP3. With any luck we will also make CP4 (Barrow Creek Hotel – 1210km) from Darwin today

 

Day 3 (~988km from Darwin)

 

We made it to Tennant creek on solar power. Apparently there are more fires down the route, teams were forced to stop here yesterday afternoon and are still here. We don’t yet know how long until we set off.

Turns out we were held for just shy of four hours, there are reports that the next checkpoint was destroyed by fire, as such it has been moved 100km south to Ti Tree. Many teams will get stuck in Tennant Creek overnight due to the fire delay and the slow progress on day 2. We are underway on solar power again, battery as full as the imbalanced pack will allow. Tom driving.

 

Day 3 (~1090km from Darwin)

Afternoon went by without a hitch. First full day on solar power! Team understandably in good spirits despite the delays. Camping at the stunning Devil’s Marbles.

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