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Solar Cars and Solar Racing. The Future of Motor Sport?



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There’s something about the words ‘solar racing’ that seem to unleash the Jeremy Clarkson in all of us. Think about it, it combines everything you thought you hated (hybrid cars) with everything you really love (racing). Like the unwanted lovechild of a parrot and a horse, it just seems wrong; next thing you know the guardian will be publishing hate speech and dogs and cats will be living together. Well, it turns out our inner-Clarkson was wrong on this one (how shocking). A quick investigation reveals solar racing takes all the awesomeness of traditional racing, combines it with experimental engineering and unleashes the result into a burning hot desert for an epic Paris-Dakar style rally. Excited? You should be; here’s a quick look at some of the facts and myths involved in this unusual sport:

The Cars are Built by Geniuses

By their nature, solar cars are experimental. Sitting at the forefront of engineering technology they suck power out of the goddamn sky, convert it into energy and use that energy to propel themselves magnificent distances. Obviously, this isn’t something you can knock up in the comfort of your garage. Top universities field teams from across the globe, taxing the brains of some of the cleverest young people alive, just to point a car at a distant target and make it go. See a solar car is even more complex than a regular one; being one-offs, each model requires a team of software programmers, engineers and designers working together to overcome difficult challenges, and I mean difficult. Conservation of energy, advances in kinetic braking, weight distribution… everything needs to be designed and constructed from the ground up, using bleeding-edge techniques almost untested. If you’re failing to see how this impacts your life, you should be aware that…

Car Companies Use Their Techniques

BMW electric concept car

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BMW, Mini, Mitsubishi and Panasonic are just a few of the companies that have benefited from solar racing. Advances in data-diagnostic equipment, electric car manufacture, engine design and battery efficiency all found first life in experimental solar cars built specifically for racing. So valuable is this information that some of the biggest manufacturers on the planet have begun throwing their weight behind individual teams; snapping up the opportunity to road test prototype designs and concepts. Volkswagen, General Motors and Ford all sponsor teams, converting their race track breakthroughs into everyday tech. Best of all, they’re leading the charge into developing the first respectable electric cars; models that can do all a petrol-based engine can, without any of the environmental impact. Which brings us to our next point:

A Solar Race is Epic

How fast, roughly, do you think an electric car can go? We’re guessing you’ve picked some pretty unimpressive figure, maybe 40mph tops. How about 130mph? That’s the Tesla Roadster there, which can cover 310 miles on a single charge and was built using solar-adapted technology. True, we have a long way to go before a genuine solar car can reach those speeds, but in the meantime they’re clocking around 55-60mph which, you may have noticed, is the USA speed limit. Here’s a video showing their transition from crawling start to full-blooded race:

Looks fun, right? Wait till you hear about the course: in true Paris-Dakar style, the participants in the World Solar Challenge have to cover 3000km of burning desert; stopping at 5pm every day to make camp wherever they are. This being Australia, ‘wherever they are’ is most likely the middle of nowhere, adding a rough-and-tumble frisson to this futuristic race that we’ll admit we love. Those of you who want to learn more can check the video below. As for the rest of us; time to pack for down under and solar-powered adventure!

What do you think of solar racing?

Guest post by George. An avid cyclist and writer for who is currently training for an unassisted cycle tour of Europe.

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