10th October - Challenge Day 3
On the road at a leisurely 7:45am this morning, we headed down to Alice Springs, the Control Stop which marks the halfway point on the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge route.
The Media Team on the approach to Alice Springs
We arrived about 40 minutes ahead of the leading team, Nuon Solar Team, and were very surprised to see that the next team didn't arrive until about 1 minute before they left again! This meant that they were about 30 minutes in the lead at this point, and as the day went on we began to realise why they had pushed so hard to get there early, risking draining additional stored energy. As more teams began to arrive in Alice Spring a weather front closed in, bringing blanket cloud coverage and spots of rain. There were even teams on their way from the previous Control Stop which got caught in full showers. We went north of Alice to capture some of these teams arriving, which unfortunately resulted in a close encounter between a Go-Pro and an oversize road train....
One of the Nuon Solar Team drivers running to tap in at the Control Stop
As solar car teams, none of the participants were enjoying the weather and teams were travelling significantly slower in order to reduce their power consumption. As predicted, this spread the field hugely, as teams got caught in different weather conditions and were unable or unwilling to push themselves to keep up with those who had made it through the other side. As a result, Nuon Solar Team had grown their lead to almost an hour by the time they reached the Kulgera Control Stop this afternoon. With rain due overnight and in the morning, we are not sure how many more cars will make it to the Alice Springs Control Stop before it closes at 12 noon tomorrow.
Looking over Alice Springs at the incoming solar cars
For those who do not make it to a Control Stop in time, they are demoted to Adventure Class and are required to trailer there car in order to keep up with the Control Stop times. This often means that a team will start off from a Control Stop, travel as far as they can on solar, and then trailer in order to reach the next control stop in time. With the reduced array sizes this year, and the slightly earlier closing times, we are seeing many teams being demoted to Adventure Class.
There are currently 15 teams still competing in the Challenger Class, meaning over 10 team have been reclassified to Adventure Class. This is very different to the 2015 Challenge and is certainly raising a few questions among the teams, although it does make it clear which teams are able to keep up with the pack as required. We hope that the remaining teams will be able to make it through, however the weather here is not in their favour.