back to article World Solar Challenge: Why the winners were so good

Tokai University of Japan were crowned the 2011 World Solar Challenge champions on Thursday, after four-and-a-half days racing through the Australian continent. The Japanese team made huge gains on Day 3 over second and third-placed teams Nuon of the Netherlands and the University of Michigan. How did they get so far ahead? …


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  1. HP Cynic

    Very ecouraging because this sort of attention to detail suggests a maturity in the sport and the technology making it more likely to pass the benefits onto the motoring world at large.

    I'd love to get a 3D model of the top few cars!

  2. jake Silver badge

    So what you are saying is that in the real world ...

    ... not so much ability, then?

    I think I'll hitch Clyde the Percheron to our 1850s Buckboard & head into Sonoma in a couple hours. Clyde's a hell of a lot more "solar powered" than anything featured at the WSC ...

    1. raving angry loony

      quote: "they averaged at 95 kph."

      You have a clyde that can do 95 kph?

      1. jake Silver badge

        @raving angry loony

        Nope. Clyde can't do 95 kph. We got ticketed for doing 28 MPH in a 25 MPH zone once, though. The judge threw it out when I successfully proved that my period 1850s rig didn't have anything that that model of radar gun could use for reflection. My horse & buckboard is stealth-tech :-)

        However, that bit of sillyness behind us, he's a lot greener than any human built solar-powered anything I've ever come into contact with. What's the energy TCO on the solar cars? I'll bet the electricity to produce them is several orders of magnitude higher than they will ever collect from the sun. To say nothing of the pollution inherent in the GaAs process (etc.).

        1. Annihilator


          "However, that bit of sillyness behind us, he's a lot greener than any human built solar-powered anything I've ever come into contact with. What's the energy TCO on the solar cars? I'll bet the electricity to produce them is several orders of magnitude higher than they will ever collect from the sun. To say nothing of the pollution inherent in the GaAs process (etc.)."

          Ever considered that all the stuff in the WSC is proof of concept stuff that's not designed to be completely green, but rather pave the way for future products that are? You can't consider the TCO of *just* the one car - you have to consider the TCO of the potential cars.

          1. jake Silver badge


            Do you know the difference between "proof of concept" and "feasibility"?

          2. JC 2

            @ Annihilator

            Nope, you don't have to consider the TCO of any cars. Solar powered cars have been around for years and none of this racing ever resulted in a consumer production vehicle, nor will it. Just because something can be done, that doesn't transcend the concept into something viable for a different application in whole or even in part.

            Whether anyone is racing or not, the future of electric powered vehicles depends solely on solar panel and battery tech breakthroughs. Without them the solar powered car is too undesirable for any practical use except extraterrestrial.

    2. hplasm


      with that attitude,you will need to do just that when the oil runs out near you.

      1. jake Silver badge


        The difference between you and me is that I know how.

        Think about the implications of that simple fact.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jet Engine assistance ?

    The solar cells get really hot, would it be possible to conduct that heat to a chamber of cold intake air and create some kind of low power jet engine ?

    I don't know what the temperature difference between the cells and ambient air is and whether it would be sufficient to use as an energy source.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Cold intake air from where?

      This is Australia. In summer. With temps hitting 45-50C. Where exactly would your cold air come from?

      Remember that even the drivers are stuck in a sauna. They don't even get any wind cooling.

      Nice concept, but needs more thinking through.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    "They are just a very good team with great attention to detail. And that’s how you win races. "

    An excellent summing up. Thumbs up

    If you want to win you have to take this fairly seriously.

    It's that attention to detail brought on *by* wanting to win that may be the most valuable part of the lessons learned by the people who crew the teams.

    But on a more surprising note "this post deleted by moderator" for 1st post on this article.

    What could be so contentious?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Some of my colleagues disagree

      Apparently, when Hamilton became F1 world champion, it's because he was the greatest F1 driver ever and well worth the obscene £10m wages.

      When the following year he didn't win, it was because he had a crappy car.

      Obviously, any other conclusions such as "he had the best car when he won" or "this driver must be better than him" were frowned upon as heresy.

  5. TkH11


    Can't see all the point of the detailed analysis. Just to prove that there isn't that much difference between the cars?

    Would have been a far more interesting article if you went into more detail about the solar panels, the technology,.

    1. Martin 47

      Err, I think that was the point of the article

  6. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    The power useage figure assumes that the course is completely flat; is it? The power used to climb a hill is normally enourmous compared to the losses from drag & rolling resistance. Also trying to store energy from rolling down the other side isn't as good as you might think due to all the losses turning the energy into electricity, converting it to the right voltage, storing it and then doing all that in reverse again when you want to use it.

    As for panels, the best ones right now are tripple-junction GaAs; they are like 3 cells on top of each other. Normally cells only get to use some of the red light, but putting cells efectively underneath you get to use more wavelengths and hence convert more of the sunlight to electricity. They cost a bit more, but if you are limited on area/weight or need maximum power for example in space, it pays off.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    it might be the friction force - why was this not analyzed. friction is direct factor of weight so 30 kg in minus would make a difference. Maybe they had super thin wheels with ceramic bearings instead of metal (rounder and smoother). And those Japanese are more like 60kg than 80kg (hence maybe 30kg in total then the others).

    1. Paul RND*1000

      Good point, with two caveats to what you said.

      The first article in this series mentioned that drivers must weigh 80kg (I assume this is a minimum, it wasn't stated in the article). That means adding ballast to make the lighter guys weigh 80kg and you're not going to find any drivers weighing more than that being put in the cars for obvious reasons. You can safely assume that every car's driver in race get-up weighs exactly the same 80kg.

      There are also limits on the wheels. They have to be road legal, whatever that means in this case, but super-skinny wheels may not meet that requirement. Special low-rolling resistance tires are a possibility though.

    2. Hombre sin nombre

      You missed a few points,

      but that is ok, comprehension can be challenging sometimes.

      As mentioned in the previous articles, the drivers are weighed at each stage of the race and ballast is added to standardize the added weight to each vehicle, and this article took rolling friction into account.

    3. handle

      Friction *is* mentioned

      See "rolling resistance".

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Sorry but...

      ... Part of the solar race is the minimum weight requirement. Ballast is added where necessary to eliminate that part of the equation.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missed the obvious

    Japanese people are small and light.


  9. Pigeon


    If you hung corks on the front, then you wouldn't have to keep stopping to wipe the flies off.

  10. Marvin the Martian

    All riders are 80kg.

    Everybody gets "handicap" weights until they weigh 80kg. Otherwise the tall Dutch would never have won this race, eh, and it'd be full of italian an japanese riders, like motoGP.

  11. mike 32

    I wonder if reversing the aerofoil effect would work?

    Since the cars aren't going to take massive corners at speed, altering the aerodynamics to make the car *lighter* at top end speeds could save energy...

    I wonder to what degree savings could be made using this?

    From a safety point of view though, I'd imagine passing those road trains with a lighter vehicle, and such a big surface area parallel to the road would make it quite susceptible to turbulence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      No, this would not work.

      See title.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Park under a street light, simples.

    1. Mike Moyle

      Why wait until you're parked...?

      Rig a big bank of sunlamps on top of your chase truck and make sure that your support team stays close behind you.

  13. Anonymous Cowbard
    Thumb Up

    Street light?

    Nah, just give each driver a wind up torch. Shine it at the panels whilst driving to create perpetual motion, surely?

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