Competitors in the South African Solar Challenge 2010 on Thursday hoped for sunny weather over the next ten days as they pulled off from Pretoria’s Innovation Hub for the ten-day, 4 200 km event.
The race between solar-powered, as well as other alternative technology cars, is scheduled to finish in Pretoria, on October 2.
Solar cars rely on solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity. This electricity is stored in batteries, which are then used to power electric motors that turn the cars’ wheels. As such, solar cars are not very powerful, with around two horse-power available on average.
The local event has attracted racing teams from Germany, Japan, and South Africa, including the German School in Johannesburg, and the University of Johannesburg.
The Solar Challenge, the second of its kind, is organised by the Advanced Energy Foundation and the Innovation Hub.
Following the start of the event on September 23, the race now heads towards Cape Town on the N1, with overnight stops in Bloemfontein and Beaufort West. The competitors then turn east, racing through George and Grahamstown and mountainous Kokstad, on to Durban and Richards Bay. The final few days see the cars traverse Mpumalanga before racing for the finishline in Pretoria.
The inaugural South African Solar Challenge, hosted in 2008, was won by the team from Tokai University, in Japan. They are also the favourites for the 2010 event.
One of the team drivers then, and again reporting for duty this year, was Japanese racing legend Kenjiro Shinozuka – the 1997 winner of the Paris–Dakar rally.
However, this year, Shinozuka races a new car with barely 3 000 km on the clock, able to average 100 km/h, as opposed to the 12-year-old vehicle used in 2008.
The 2010 race consists of three classes, with the Olympia division reserved for the top-end teams, the Adventure division for older solar cars, and finally the technology demonstration division, where any company or person may use the event to showcase interesting automotive-related technology.
The University of Johannesburg has, for example, entered a petrol, hydrogen, battery hybrid, with the Hochschule Offenburg, University of Applied Sciences, entering a battery-powered vehicle.
The primary aim of the South African Solar Challenge is to promote science and technology in Southern Africa, and to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy sources to the motoring and other industries.
The South African Solar Challenge has international backing from the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), as well as the Department of Science and Technology, International Solarcar Federation, Motorsport South Africa and the National Energy Efficiency Agency.