Car racing is an exciting and challenging endeavor, to say the least. Adding solar car technology to the mix increases the challenge exponentially. Teams that design, build, and race solar cars are confronted with the many unique rules and requirements of solar car racing.
Solar Powered Car Race Challenges
Teams racing solar cars must adhere to a stringent set of rules, depending on the specific event.
Some rules are common to most types of car racing, but there are additional criteria that apply to a solar powered car race.
Rules Governing Solar Car Races
Team size is generally not restricted for the overall team, but there are limits to how many members serve as the participating race team for many actual race events.
Qualifying – also referred to as “scrutineering” is essential for participation. This may involve participating in qualifying events, or in-person visits by race sponsors or event staff to ensure electrical and mechanical requirements are met.
Documentation – one of the most critical requirements of race entries. Required documentation can include a great deal of technical documentation:
- Drawings and photographs of mechanical systems.
- Detailed documentation of electrical systems, including schematics and wiring diagrams of the battery, propulsion, solar power, and instrument systems.
- Manufacturers’ specifications of the electrical motor, batteries, solar panels, and all electrical components. These include chemical makeup, weight, efficiency ratings, and much more.
Some events may place further restrictions or requirements on the vehicles themselves:
Vehicle size – length, width, height, and weight.
Number of wheels – some races may be restricted in this category as well.
Body structure – body panels may or may not be required, depending on the event, but frame, suspension, and requirements for physical structures such as roll cages must adhere to race standards.
Solar array – size and types of solar construction may also be restricted by event rules.
Batteries – here again, size, type, and power capacity can be some of the restrictions defined by solar racing event rules.
Many other rules related to construction may include disconnect “kill” switches, steering, braking, and lighting specifications.
Solar Car Racing Events
There are many well-respected annual solar powered car race events, with both national and international recognition:
World Solar Challenge
This event covering a range of 1,800+ miles in Australia attracts teams from all over the world. With a long history of solar car racing, the 2017 event marks the 30th anniversary of the race. To encourage development of solar cars capable of satisfying future transportation needs, the World Solar Challenge added a “Cruiser” class to the event, which requires that vehicles include 4 wheels and upright seating for passengers. This class is judged on multiple factors that include completion time, passenger miles, and payload.
Other classes in the WSC include the Challenger class, where competition is based on sheer speed.
American Solar Challenge
Previously known as the “North American Solar Challenge” and “Sunrayce”, this race is focused on collegiate teams racing in measured blocks of time in the US and Canada. The ASC has struggled over recent years in acquiring sponsorship to support the race. In the last race event held in 2016, the University of Michigan Solar Race Team took top honors, as they have for the last 6 consecutive races.
Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge
This is an annual event where high school student teams can put their solar race cars through their paces. With Dell sponsoring the event since 2002, the race attracts teams not only from US high schools, but others from around the world.
This race is also unique in that it varies between even and odd-numbered years with even-numbered year events taking place at the Texas Motor Speedway, and odd-numbered years consisting of road races starting at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, TX, and ending at different destinations each year.
South African Solar Challenge
One of the most challenging races where duration and distance are concerned, this race consists of a 2-week event traveling the entire length of South Africa. Initiated in 2008, this event has attracted public interest and receives sponsorship from Sasol, the South African chemical and energy company. Sasol now claims naming rights, making the event the Sasol Solar Challenge, South Africa.
Participants depart from Pretoria, maneuvering south all the way to Cape Town. The course then heads to the east coast and Durban, before racing back to the finish line in Pretoria.
This is a premier solar powered car race, endorsed by the International Solarcar Federation, Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Many additional events are hosted worldwide in Turkey, Japan, Greece, Taiwan, and other countries.
Solar Powered Car Race Rewards
Teams enter solar car races to demonstrate their prowess in designing and building solar vehicles, and to enjoy the spirited competition of participating in tests of endurance, teamwork, technology, and engineering skills.
Strategy for competition is a focus on efficient energy consumption and controlling speed to maximize use of the available power. Road race courses offer their own challenges such as weather, suspension damage, tire damage, and exposure.
For these dedicated teams that work cohesively to resolve problems and make it to the finish line, the accomplishment and satisfaction is a major reward in itself.