Sasol’s Solar Challenge South Africa was set to kick off on Tuesday after 12, mostly academic, teams completed multiple final vehicle testing processes at Zwartkop Raceway, in Pretoria, on Monday.
The competition, which was held by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile every two years, would see seven locally built and two internationally constructed solar-powered vehicles travel over 5 000 km over an 11-day period, said race director Winstone Jordaan.
Despite the ability to travel at speeds of 120 km/h, the vehicles were expected to set a pace of between 70 km/h and 80 km/h, which was found to be the technology’s most efficient speed.
Four other vehicles, known as the 'technology fleet' and demonstrating other forms of advanced technology, such as hybrid- and electric-powered vehicles, would join the challenge starting at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research campus, in Pretoria.
The competition aimed to educate and develop skills in the areas of science, innovation and engineering, while exploring new energy technologies, such as solar and new-age battery technology, said Jordaan.
The challenge hosted three categories, namely the Olympia class, which was the main competitive class for solar-electric vehicles, the Challenge class for older solar vehicles, and the Technology class, which was a platform for the demonstration of alternative power technologies for vehicles.
In the days prior to the start of the “efficiency” race, the teams undertook multiple qualifying static and dynamic scrutinising tests, which ensured the safety of the vehicles, efficient driver exit timing in case of emergency and the brake timing and speed and handling of the vehicles.
The teams were expected to drive the vehicles through Vryburg, Upington, Springbok, Cape Town, Oudtshoorn, East London, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg and Secunda, before completing the race in Pretoria on September 28.
Local teams included the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the University of Johannesburg, the Tshwane University of Technology, the University of the Witwatersrand and the North West University.
International teams included India-based Dehli Technology University and previous solar race champion Japan-based Tokai University.