Uni students target solar world record

Riley Riley

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.

As well as the Guinness World Record attempt, the latest Sunswift 7 car will also push the boundaries of what is technically possible in terms of remote control.

In association with team technical partner Optus, the vehicle will have 5G receivers and cameras installed, allowing it to be driven by someone outside the car wearing a virtual headset.

And that someone will be none other than 2021 Bathurst 1000 winner Chaz Mostert who will pilot Sunswift around the famous Mount Panorama track in October.

Professor Hopkins believes the achievement of the UNSW students to design and build such a car is a huge achievement.

“Let’s remember, this is not the best paid professional car makers in Stuttgart working for Mercedes,” he said.

“This is a bunch of very smart amateurs who have taken all the ingredients and put it together in a brilliant way.

“Sunswift 7 is the manifestation of their collective minds, who on day one probably had very little idea what they were doing. And now to produce this amazing car is just insane.”


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