It was 2009 when I was invited to take part in the Global Green Challenge from Darwin to Adelaide — a long, hot dusty 3000km.
We drove with the windows wound up and the air conditioning turned off to save fuel, chugging enough bottles of water to fill the back seat.
Our ‘journo’ car, a Hyundai Santa Fe R diesel, was one of two entered by the company.
The other was driven by rally ace Ed Ordynski.
It was an amazing experience.
But it was still light years from the futuristic solar panels masquerading as cars that competed in the parallel Global Solar Challenge.
Their pit stops would have done a Formula 1 team proud.
Ours involved a quick nip into the bushes for a pee.
One of the teams that year was a group of students from the University of NSW.
Competing in the Sunswift IV, they took out the Silicon-based Solar Cell Class.
This same group is about to have a crack at Guiness World Record, looking to claim the title of the world’s fastest solar vehicle, in what is now the Sunswift 7.
The record attempt will take place at the Australian Automobile Research Centre in Wensleydale, Victoria in December.
Sunswift 7 weighs in at just under 500kg, about 25 per cent of a Tesla Model S electric car, thanks mainly to its carbon fibre chassis and bodywork.
The aerodynamic design also dramatically reduces wind resistance, while efficiencies in power transfer between the solar panel and the motor mean the car can travel for more than 1200km on a single charge of its battery.
The 50-strong student team, overseen by Professor of Practice Richard Hopkins, former Head of Operations for the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 Team, hopes to break the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Solar Electric Car over a distance of 1000km.
To do so they believe they can achieve an average speed of 120km/h or more during the estimated eight-hour record attempt.
Professor Hopkins said the Sunswift Racing team already holds a number of Guinness and FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) world records and is confident Sunswift 7 can add to this list.
“Thanks to some aerospace technologies, this car weighs just under 500kg, which is about one quarter that of a Tesla Model S,” he said.
“The lighter a car is, the more efficient it will be, and with efficiencies come speed.
“This is a racing car, so we save a lot of weight by not having ABS brakes, or airbags, or an air conditioning system – and we don’t even have windscreen wipers.
“The team has also done a lot of work on the bearings which means there is very little resistance mechanically and we have a very aerodynamic design to cut air resistance to a minimum.”
UNSW’s Sunswift Racing team has been at the forefront of solar vehicle technology since building its first car in 1996, enjoying success in numerous races, most notably the World Solar Challenge.