World Solar Challenge 2001
The drive up - Day 1 (photos)
The car was on display at Langley Park Super Stage of Rally Australia. The plan was to pick up the car on Sunday morning, load it in the trailer and depart for Darwin. Plans changed when we were told at 10:30pm on Saturday night that the car had to move then. It needed to be removed or it could be left out in the open overnight. The trailer was summoned and the car was loaded up at about 11:15pm. So much for an early night.
Peter arrived to pick up Craig at about 9:30. We are already 30 minutes behind "the schedule". Craig's stuff was loaded into the car and then we set about installing the wheel chocks in the trailer to stop the car moving back and forth on its long drive. Departure from Craig's house was approximate 10:20 with Craig, Peter and Nikola dirty from crawling around in the trailer. Next stop is Skip's house. Skip recently moved and Peter and Craig haven't been to his new house before. After some aimless driving they are just about at Skippy's house after some minor detours when they remember an important fact. Peter's car has the whiz bang satellite navigation computer that could have directed us straight to Skip's front door. Skip brings out his bag which give Peter and Craig cause for great concern. It is the biggest duffle bag either of them have ever seen. If every team member brings one of these, they will not fit in the trailer in Darwin. Mental note, stress (again) to all team members that they must pack light! As it turns out, Skip's bag contains an air mattress, sleeping bag, clothes, etc and he was packing for 4 weeks on the road so it wasn't as bad as first appearances made out. Go via service station and leave Perth. Time is now 11:30, approximately 90 minutes behind "the schedule".
The original schedule had us making Meekathara on the first night. It quickly became obvious that this was not a practical option. Driving out into the wheatbelt, Peter, Craig and then Skippy discovered the joys of towing the solar car trailer and the fishtaily thing it did when you had a moment of inattention or simply tried to drive around a corner. Fortunately we each got used to it and the behaviour largely stopped making for a much less distressing drive.
We stopped for fuel in Payne's Find and asked the guy there about options for accomodation in Mount Magnet and whether it was wise driving at night. The advice was don't drive and night and he recommended the Miner's Rest for accomodation and The Corner Pub for dinner. We drove on and got to Mount Magnet shortly before sunset. The accomodation was good value and the dinner was a bit expensive but very nice. The novel thing at the Miner's Rest was turning up, pressing the button for service. About a minute later a guy turns up on a motorbike, walks into one of the units, then appears at the front door and says "How can I help you?". We watched "Almost Famous" from DVD on the iBook.
The drive up - Day 2 (photos)
Day 2 we drove as far as the Auski Roadhouse. Craig is getting a little freaked out because a couple of years ago he and some friends did a whirlwind tour of the North West and stayed at the Auski Roadhouse one night and then Mount Magnet the next. To add to this they put us in the same room that Craig and friends stayed in last time. The drive to Auski was relatively uneventful. We saw some 4 trailer road trains (prime mover, trailer, trailer, short trailer and trailer) for the first time. There was some spectacular scenery and mountains on the drive near Newman which also included the highest point of our trip to Darwin. Fuel was expensive but because the trailer was giving us about 23 litres per 100km we didn't have a lot of options. We watched "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" from DVD on the iBook.
The drive up - Day 3 (photos)
Day 3 we drove from the Auski Roadhouse to Broome. This was a relatively long drive but we were getting up at dawn and driving. We stopped in South Hedland and bought a Jerry Can. This seemed wise given our poor fuel economy (about 320km on a tank) and the long stretches to drive with no service stations. The longest of these stretches was approximately 280km. On the drive to South Hedland we saw a lot of cows on the side of the road and a few walking across it.
Out of South Hedland we got within 400m of a point of confluence where integer latitude and longitude lines meet. You can register visits to these points on www.confluence.org. Sadly someone had beaten us to this one by 6 months. So we buried a geocache there instead. www.geocache.com?
We continued the drive along a relatively empty stretch of road. We got to drive through a burning bushfire that was quite close to both sides to the road. As we got closer to Broome we noticed it was getting decidedly dark even though it was relatively early. Some quick checks on the GPS confirmed what was painfully obvious. As you travel east, sunrise and sunset get earlier. Sunset in Broome was about 30 minutes earlier than it has been the previous day. We cruised into Broome and following some info from Liz and Neil who had been there the previous night, found somewhere nice to stay and have dinner. We stayed at the Mangrove Resort (which was probably more up market than we needed) and had dinner at a restaurant with a microbrewery. The alcoholic ginger beer was very dangerous and the food was very nice. The name eludes me sadly. We did not watch any more DVDs for quite some time and we left our freezer blocks in the freezer at the hotel in Broome. D'oh!
The drive up - Day 4 (photos)
Day 4 had us driving for Kununurra. The drive took us through Derby and then past the Bungle Bungles. We went through Halls Creek which was a rather depressing place. You had to pay for your fuel before you could fill up your car, it was hot and they sold Celtic music on CD which Skippy bought and inflicted upon the car. The next stop was Turkey Creek where we were turned away from one service station that was in an Aboriginal community and told to go to the road house a couple of kilometres down the road. We probably wouldn't have stopped there if we had been certain there was another service station down the road but with our fuel consumption we couldn't afford to be picky.
It rained on us a couple of times this day which made for exciting driving on the twisty narrow highway with the trailer. This seems to have been the least travelled road that we've travelled on for the trip. We had seen almost no dead animals on the road, if you ignore all the locusts we squashed, so the decision was made to push on for Kununurra which would mean arrival about 2 hours after it's ridiculously early sunset. We were treated to a lighting sorm, strong winds, sideways rain and a bushfire beside the road during the dark. We rolled into Kununurra and found a nice place to stay looking out over the lake at the entrance to town. Dinner ended up being Chicken Treat because the pizza place wouldn't answer the phone.
The drive up - Day 5 (photos)
Day 5 was the push for Darwin. We had a very exciting detour through the back streets of outer Kununurra. They were doing major roadworks and sent us way off the highway in the process. We crossed the border into Northern Territory almost without realising we were doing it. So far for the entire trip up we had managed to drive straight up to the petrol bowser at every service station we had stopped at. The first service station of the day was blocked on both sides. One side had the european tourist meticulously cleaning his windscreen and the other side blocked by some backpacking girls, one of whom was inside shopping. We spent well over 5 minutes waiting (along with another person) for them to move their cars so we could refuel. We made Katherine by early afternoon NT time and headed for Darwin. We realised on our previous trip that we hadn't actually marked parking bays before Katherine so we started doing that on the way given that there was a real chance we'd end up camping in one of them if the weather was bad. We arrived in Darwin and found our way to the accomodation. We discovered that the Alpha Centauri team were also staying there and we spent some time chatting with some of them down by the pool.
We made a list of things that we had to do to the car. We took the car to the Showgrounds where we had booked workshop space. We were actually the first car to be set up there so naturally we grabbed a large amount of space with the intention of shrinking as more cars turned up.
The drive to Darwin had given us another look at the Hayes Creek Hill and it scared us. First on the agenda for things to do to the car was to reduce it's weight. We were the first team to attack our car with an angle grinder. By the start of the race, 6 of the teams in our workshop would have done this. A lot of the trussing and bits of steel that looked superfluous were removed. Some surlplus wiring was removed, holes were cut from the underside of the array but this turned out to be a bit of a debacle as Craig managed to cut many of the tabbing wires connecting the solar array in the process. This ended up costing us the best part of a day to rectify. The battery boxes were replaced by planks of wood to which the batteries were gaffa taped. We were on a first name basis with the staff at Mitre 10 by the end of this. Total weight savings on the car were around 20-25kg. This was important because one of our other jobs was to weigh the car and we came up with approximately 445kg including driver and batteries which was more than we'd estimated. The upper shell, arrary and canopy was about 58kg.
On the monday before the race we took the car out to Hidden Valley for a bit for a test drive around the track. Peter drove the car around to get a feel for how it was running with the new bearings in the wheel and how hot it was in the car.
The gang starts to arrive
On the tuesday, Shay, Fe, Steve and Nik arrived. This meant we had enough people to start doing some road testing. The powers that be had recommended a road called Channel Island Road that ran out to the power station. It was about 20km long and was similar to the Stuart Highway. We also had access to the Hidden Valley Motor Sports Complex. This is where the road trials would be done on saturday morning. We took our two drivers out to Hidden Valley for a spin around the track so that they could get back into the feel of driving and also find out how the car felt in the heat and humidity. We spent 2-3 hours doing laps and practicing emergency braking. We couldn't remember what the conditions were but we eventually had braking from 50km/h down to 13-14 metres. It turns out you need to be able to break from 30km/h in 22 metres so we were worried about nothing.
Many of the newcomers were being affected by the heat. The early arrivers were slowly adjusting to the heat and humidity but still suffering some side effects of dehydration and heat stress on a regular basis. It rained reliably pretty much every afternoon. Sometimes the rain didn't seem to actually touch the ground before evaporating and becoming increased humidity.
Because we're an english speaking, friendly, competent team, the race organisers asked us if we'd like to be first through the scrutineering process. We'd probably have to help them sort out their procedures at the same time. So at 8:00AM on thursday morning we fronted up to the Foskey Pavillion with Sungroper.
The first job is to register the team. You go upstairs, write down your names, pay insurance, register for parties etc. Then you take 6 people and go downstairs for the scrutiny to begin.
First stop is signage. The car gets a couple of event stickers and you are given stickers for your other official vehicles for CB channels and event identification.
Second stop is measurement. This is the exciting place where you discover if the car that you made to fit within a certain size box actually fits within it. Sungroper is 1793mm x 4990mm which if fine by us. Rumour has it that at the last WSC the Mannum high school car had the trailing 150mm cut off the car because it was too long. They also measured things like our array size for the purpose of capturing the information even though it wasn't relevant for out ISF5000 class.
Third stop was car weighing. Sungroper needs to go on a diet. Weight of the car and batteries was 345kg. Drivers are weighed seperately.
Fourth stop was Photography. A picture of the car was taken for our log book so the observers could identify the cars. A team photo was also to be taken later.
Fifth stop was the Department of Transport safety check in preparation for road licensing. We found a loose bolt holding the steering tie rod. We believe it had worked itself loose with our repeated adjustments to the wheel alignment. It was tightened and we promised to check it every day. We had to demonstrate our emergency exit. The agreed that we could do it in two stages with the canopy being removed safely inbetween the two steps. Fe made life difficult for herself by missing one of the bungies on her first attempt and costing herself a couple of seconds. She still easily escaped within a total of 12 seconds.
Sixth stop was electrical safety. While wheeling the car across there we realised we never got around to sticking the "Danger High Voltage" stickers all over everything. This was done along with sealing up a section behind the array switches in case any of the drivers happened to have triple jointed wrists and could actually get their fingers behind them.
Seventh and final stop was batteries. David Rand and Warren went through our battery packs, sealed them up and ensured we had a valid Chemical Incident Response Plan. They were actually really impressed with ours and appreciative of the fact that we'd made it available so they could use it as an example for other teams. Once the battery packs were sealed we were through scrutineering and ready for road trials.
Everyone on board
Friday saw Ian and Sally turn up. We went out to Channel Island Road for some driving. Sally did a one way trip and then the weather scared us so we packed up again. While driving along the road we were lucky enough to see Aurora going the other way doing 90-100km/h. Ian was furiously marking exam papers so he could send the results back to Perth before we left Darwin.
Road Trials (photos)
Hidden Valley is noted for being notoriously hot and Saturday was no exception. Many of the team ended up getting themselves sunburnt too. We turned up with relatively drained batteries so we put the array up to charge and tried to find out how we actually got on the track to do our test. After tracking down the appropriate officials we go ourselves onto the track for our road trial.
The solar car waits for the road train to approach the turn at the end of the straight and proceed down the other half of the road directly towards you. The solar car leaves and accelerates as fast as possible because the speed here determines your starting position. The road train passes during the speed test and goes to do another lap of the track. The car slows down, turns back onto another section of the track, does a trip through some cones at 30km/h for a stability test and then accelerates to 50km/h for a braking test. The car can then leave the track and assuming all went well they have passed the test. Sungroper had a qualifying speed of 64km/h and "stopped within our shadow".
We qualified 27th on the starting grid behind Ned, Platypus and Mannum.
Day 1 (photos)
We were told to be down at the starting grid for 5:45AM to be in place on the grid for 7:00AM. Unfortunately the marshalling wasn't very obvious, the car park they wanted us to convene in wasn't really appropriate. We actually damaged the trailer attempting to take it into the car park. So there were solar cars and support vehicles everywhere and nobody seemed to be doing a good job of organising them. We eventually managed to organise all the people in front of us and get into position by about 7:40AM for an 8:00AM start. There was no sign of the scrutineering of support vehicles that was promised.
The cars were on the starting grid with their support vehicles in front and behind them as they would travel in the race. This made for approximately 110 vehicles in the police convoy to the start of timing. The weather wasn't exactly ideal solar car weather but we had full batteries so it wasn't an issue yet.
After the finish of timing we were passed by the Kirenjaku car. This Japanese team assembled their car for the first time in the workshop next to us at the showgrounds. He only did a slow speed trial because they were still testing the car. We passed the Platypus on the side of the road. It turns out they had a wire rubbing on the chain or sprocket and it eventually stopped the car. They passed us again later.
We played leap frog during the day with the Annersley team who were driving a Holden Barina converted to electric drive.
The most amazing sight of the day was the Biel Spirit of Bike team who went past us like easily. They were 800W electric power assist bicycles and the riders were averaging 65-75km/h on them. These bicycles just cruised past us and it was an amazing sight.
We started the day with Nikola driving. Our observer was Charles.
The big challenge of the first day was Hayes Creek Hill. The strategy that was being used was to control the car was to find a medium term average of power usage and them decide if it was too much or too little to reach a planned end point with an acceptable amount of power (preferably but not always above zero). With the speed set at about 28km/h Fe drove up the big hill with the current not going above 17 amps. There was much rejoycing.
The next bit of excitement for the day was a sudden rainstorm. Apparently further down the road the weather was so exciting that trees were knocked over and cars were pulling off the road. We jumped out of the cars and covered the solar car with a tarp. Our experience of having the car rained on had shown us that the yellow cover was water resistant at best and that the array leaked substantially. We left Ian in the car, covered it with the tarp, decided the rain was a little bit better and jumped back in the cars to continue down the road.
We eventually made it to a truck parking bay at about 5:09 and the first day of racing was declared a success. In mediocre weather we'd covered about 250km.
Camping on the other had sucked! It was hot, incredibly humid, lots of flies and dubious looking ground should it rain again. Nobody (except Nik apparently) slept well and the weather wasn't a whole lot better in the morning.
We had a visit from the officials in the evening who told us that the Katherine control stop would be kept open for an additional 2 hours the following morning because of the bad weather. With luck we would be able to make it before it closed.
Day 2 (photos)
After a reasonable morning charge we set off for Katherine as fast as the batteries would allow. Weather still wasn't brilliant but was improving quickly. We were watching the clock, the battery, the solar array and the distance to go. On the way into Katherine we had a reoccurance of a problem with the CB in the follow car that made communication using it virtually useless. We phoned ahead once we had mobile reception and told them we were on our way and they agreed to keep the control stop open for us. Finally we rolled into Katherine control stop and then the action began.
First we got the array pointing towards the sun and then dispatched the support vehicles to refuel. Craig headed off to Tandy to buy a replacement CB for the follow vehicle and a CB for the lead vehicle as it was becoming obvious that the hand helds weren't exactly excellent for the manner in which we intended to use them.
We were a couple of minutes late pulling out of the control stop due to the shopping spree on CB equipment.
The rest of the day went relatively smoothly with us finishing the day very low on battery power about 12km north of Larrimah. There had been some debate earlier in the day about exactly what "empty" meant when you were talking about batteries. By the time we stopped the batteries were by some definitions below empty. To make sure we didn't make it any worse we started charging them immediately. Fortunately stopping a little bit early due to the low voltage gave us additional charging time.
We were completely over camping at this point, although the weather was actually much nicer. Our plan was to trailer forwards into Larrimah, spend the night, trailer back for sunrise and start from there. While in Larrimah the officials dropped in again and explained the "new rule". "If you miss three control stops anywhere in the race you will be asked to withdraw or be disqualified". Given that our current rate of progress was obviously insufficient at this point and we knew we were going to have to trailer at some point in the race we resolved to trailer forwards to the next control point before sunrise the next morning. This was a distance of about 136km plus the 12km from the previous evening.
The Larrimah pub/accomodation was modest but reasonable. Look for the giant NT stubbie and the pink panther.
Day 3 (photos)
After rising well before the crack of dawn we headed for the Dunmarra control point. We arrived about 5 minutes after sunrise with a Distance To Empty of 1 kilometre in the lead car. We got an excellent morning charge which when combined with the good afternoon charge the previous day left us with about 2/3 of our battery pack.
We exchanged Charles for Andreas.
Leaving with us that morning were Kormilda College, Platypus, New Caledonia and Kirenjaku. A short distance behind us were Mannum who were still going to make the control stop under their own power. Kormilda and Kirenjaku were having "car problems" while New Calendonia and Platypus were in the same boat as us and just a bit too slow, particularly in the bad weather.
With the power in the batteries and the sun shining brightly the strategists got enthusiastic and we ended up passing Kirenjaku, Platypus and New Caledonia that morning. We leapfrogged these people a few times during driver changes and other unscheduled stops.
We were passed during the day by Mannum who were running as the last legitimate car on the road.
We finished our day south of Renner Springs. Because we still hadn't recovered from the first night the decision was made to trailer forward to the next control stop in Tennant Creek because we weren't going to make it by it's closing time. We trailered forward approximately 120km after sunset and spent the night in blissful air conditioned units.
Day 4 (photos)
Starting at Tennant Creek control stop gave us another 1/2 hour of charge in the morning for a good 3/4+ charge to start the day. Some of the cells had been approaching their "full" voltage during the charging.
We exchanged Andreas for Jacquie.
We started the day making good time. The weather was excellent and we were averaging a good speed all day. This was the first day we saw the array peak over 1000W for any sustained period.
We drove past the Devil's Marbles shortly after the first driver change. We were one person down in the lead car as 5 people went to visit the Devil's Marbles.
Today we drove over the longest straight stretch of the race of approximately 42km.
The day went extremely well and we set a new distance record for a single day of 261km. We finished the day at a truck parking bay south of Barrow Creek.
The remarkable thing about today's data is that we had textbook looking data for array power, charge and battery power.
At the end of the day we were sharing our parking bay with the Platypus and Mannum who were still running as the last legitimate vehicle on the road without trailering.
Sally and Craig took the white car to a road house to fill it up and get the 20 litre jerry can filled up for the red car.
Day 5 (photos)
This was probably one of our more exciting days. We had until the end of the day to make the Alice Springs control point. Initially we'd been trying to decide our strategy and what we wanted to do if we were just going to make it before 5:00. This might require us to spend the night there and return to the control point first thing in the morning. This was counter to our initial strategy of trailering forward so that we could start further down the road if we felt it was neccesary to make the following control point.
As it turned out we had a ripper of a day on day 4 and were now scheduled to arrive at Alice Springs around 2:30pm.
We let Mannum leave first as they were still in the race without trailering and making the best speed. Platypus got to go next because they usually cruised a little bit faster than us. We headed off down the road. Within the first 20 minutes we'd passed Mannum who were on side the road with a minor electrical glitch and we'd also passed Platypus who were stopped with a flat tyre. Both teams passed us again with Mannum using the CB to go "Chomp Chomp Chomp" as they closed on us.
We passed Platypus again who had stopped to check another possible problem with their tyre. We lost site of them for a while. The platypus array is quite curved which gives them an advantage in the early day but also gives them a much lower peak during the middle of the day. The weather was good and the Sungroper array was giving us over 1000W while we suspected the platypus array was getting them about 750W. We were slowly closing on them and as we approached Alice Springs we managed to pass them. While we'd passed some people back near Dunmarra, this was the most exciting overtake of the race. We arrived in the Alice Springs Control Point a few minutes in front of Platypus.
In all the excitement we forgot to go and refuel the vehicles while we were at the control point. We had enough fuel to get us to the end of the day but definitely needed to go and get more fuel overnight.
We exchanged Jacqui for Simon at Alice Springs.
We headed out of Alice Springs. We were a little rusty on our city driving and there was a very exciting roundabout for Sally to negotiate. We made our right hand turn and avoided the scenic detour down to the Airport. We ended the day just over 50km out of Alice Springs with patchy cloud slowing our progress. We stopped a bit before 5:00 and watched sadly as the Platypus drove past us before the end of driving hours. They apparently drove quite a way before getting to the next truck parking bay and must have been seriously into penalty time when they stopped.
We had patchy cloud for the afternoon charge but managed a reasonable charge. It was quite hot and dry and looked like it might rain overnight. Skippy and Neil made a bet on whether or not it would rain. The sheep station (50 cents) still hangs in the balance as the jury is still out on whether or not a few drops counts as "rain". Poor definition of the criteria of the bet has left them in litigation.
The parking bay was pretty good for camping. Craig and Sally wanted to make phone calls, have showers, do shopping etc so they headed back into Alice Springs to refuel the white car and fill up the jerry cans again.
Day 6 (photos)
The morning charge didn't look very promising at sunrise but conditions improved a little giving us patchy charging. There was heavy cloud in front of us and the prospects for another excellent day looked grim.
We headed off at 8:00 and got stuck where we could see the cloud clearing ahead of us. The array was giving us 250W to start with, it gradually worked it's way up to 400W and the strategists were betting the bank of the fact that the sun would come out before we got to negative 30% on our battery pack at Marla Control Point.
We cleared the cloud about the same time we got to the following car park (about 15K down the road) which is where we saw the remains of the platypus team packing up their camp site.
We were still on schedule to be able to drive to the next Control point in Marla with our goal for the day being to cross the border into South Australia and make it as far as possible.
We passed the Platypus team parked at a roadhouse charging. They apparently muttered something about thunderstorms and trailering forwards to Glendambo. We never actually found out exactly what the story was there and I'm suspicious I'm on the receiving end of chinese whispers.
Towards the end of the day the sunshine left us and we were stuck with more scattered cloud. The battery voltage was getting very low and then we ran into a couple of small hills. The first of these hills got the battery voltage down to just above 100 volts which was our cutoff for battery pack safety. The second of these hills forced us to pull in and charge for a little while to give us enough to drive to the next carpark. Our original intention of driving to the airstrip (because Peter was sick of camping at car parks and wanted to try something different) was definitely out of range now. We pointed the array directly at the sun for 15 minutes to give us another 20 minutes of slow driving.
We eventually made it to Maryatt Creek Bridge for the evening and got a good charge, mainly because we got there about 4:30 and had bonus time for our evening charge.
The bridge had a pretty good car park. Simon chose to set up his bedroll out in the middle of the car park next to a tree. This proved to be an exciting place to camp. At some point in the night a car pulled into the car park, parked next to the tree, the popped the bonnet, played around for a while and then packed up and left. This was just the warm up though. Later in the evening a road train pulled into the car park, did a big U turn and left again. Apparently it was within a couple of metres of where Simon the observer was observing how close the truck was getting to him.
Day 7 (photos)
Ironically despite murdering our batteries the previous day, they were actually full by the end of morning charging because of the extra time we had to charge.
The goal for today was the Marla Roadhouse which was closing at 1:00pm. Morning conditions had a thick line of cloud that seemed to last part way down the horizon and then clear. We'd had similar conditions the previous day and cleared them pretty quickly. Todays clouds were being a little more troublesome and we ended up travelling along the road under the edge of the cloud for a while without quite clearing it.
It was about this point we had an emergency observer change on the side of the road. The follow car pulled over, dumped all of Simon's stuff out, dumped all of Jame's stuff in and then roared off to catch up with Sungroper which fortunately hadn't travelled too far in the time it took to do the observer change. All that driver change practice in the solar car must be paying off.
To add to our woes our new observer told us that if we didn't make it to Marla by 1:00pm that we would be required to trailer forward to Glendambo. We were on schedule to make Marla but this was a serious concern because we'd already dispatched the logistics team to Coober Pedy for sightseeing and booking of accomodation for the night. Coober Pedy to Glendambo is 250km. Marla to Glendambo about 500km.
We eventually cleared the cloud around 10:00 (30 minutes after the time which Neil promised he'd have the clouds sorted out) and we started to charge the batteries.
Fortunately we made it to Marla and didn't have to put the rulemakers to the test. We remembered to refuel the cars this time, got a good supply of junk food for the next leg of the journey and headed off as far as we could drive with the intention of charging wherever we were after 5:00pm and trailering to Coober Pedy for the night.
We made it a reasonable distance, and discussed strategy over the afternoon charge. We were no longer in serious contention of being able to drive the remainder of the race. We'd confirmed that everyone got to go in the parade with the solar car and that we had to be in Adelaide before 9:00AM on the Tuesday to be elligble. The finish line closes "officially" at 5:10pm on Monday but they keep it there for the extra day until the party on Tuesday night to give teams who might be able to drive some more the opportunity to finish. We weren't going to make it so the new plan was...
Get to Coober Pedy, eat, sleep, get up at 2:30AM and then drive the 250km to Glendambo Control Point for morning charge starting at approximately 5:30AM. What were we thinking?
Day 8 (photos)
Beep Beep Beep Beep... "I feel like I just went to bed (sigh)".
The saving grace was that the White car got to leave at 5:30AM for 8:00AM arrival in Glendambo and the blue car got to leave even later again. We left the people who hadn't seen Coober Pedy in the daylight to do logistics so they could have a quick look around and then hit the road to play catch up.
We drove through towards sunrise and arrived in Glendambo a few minutes after sunrise, found somewhere vaguely acceptable to set up and got the car charging. While the car was charging it was off to the Road House for a greasy breakfast.
The other car turned up at about 8:00 and we started getting ready for our 8:30AM departure out of the control stop. There had been a B&S ball in town the previous night. We had set our car up in a car park across the road from the official control stop. This was deemed the "Remote Control Stop" by the officials and we were required to be there for reasons of safety given that there were people still walking around with cans of beer who hadn't been to bed yet. The officials were nice to us at several of the Control Points in this way. It pays to be at the back of the field sometimes.
Our goal today was to try and make Port Augusta before it closed. We had the same debates about what to do if we crossed the control point line just before 5:00 because we probably couldn't drive all the way from Port Augusta to Adelaide in a single day, especially if we started at 8:30 after the control stop.
We headed out of Glendambo. The best bit of the day was the huge downhill. This was where we discovered something about the car that we weren't previously aware of. The T-Flux doesn't have regenerative braking. It does however have regenerative downhill and this was news to us. The solar array was giving out about a kilowatt and we hit this really big downhill. On the way down the hill we were charging the batteries at over 20 amps. This equates to about 2.5 times what our solar array should be able to deliver. It would have been embarrasing to blow our 30 amp fuse on the batteries because we were over charging them as opposed to overdrawing them which is what the fuse was to protect against.
The scenery changed a lot over the day and we dropped down to sea level. We made excellent time and had an ETA of 4:10 for the Port Augusta control stop which meant we'd be in and out and able to drive further down the road before the end of the day. Being Control Point experts now we remembered to refuel the cars and buy our junk food in the 30 minute stop. We held the array facing towards the sun again and made it out of the control point in time for 22 minutes of additional driving. Because the sun was on the wrong side of the road and the traffic was much busier now we had to pick somewhere in a hurry when we found it. We found an access road on the right hand side of the road and got in there to charge.
The evening charge was reasonable but kept going up and down wildly as cloud obscured the sun.
We moved forwards to a caravan park about 30km down the road called the Bush Camp Caravan Park. There was accomodation for most people there and most importantly showers and toilets. There was rain threatening the evening but in the end it stayed clear overnight.
Day 9 (photos)
The morning charge was very bad with tall hills on the sunrise side of our campsite and cloud above that. We got a small charge and had slightly over half the battery pack when we pulled out at 8:00AM.
The weather was very grim with a lot of overcast skies and very little sunshine.
About 3km down the road we passed Mannum on the side of the road. They apparently had VERY flat batteries and weren't leaving just yet. They passed us a little while later so they couldn't have been there too long. Unfortunately they were going very slow and so were we. To make matters worse there were signs of rain off in the distance.
Mannum passed us and shortly after this the rain eventually caught us too. We made the executive decsion on the spot to trailer forwards out of the rain. Our battery reserves and our array power did not indicate we could finish today with our estimated distance to the finish line. At least not unless we could in fact draw the batteries down to minus 120% anyway.
We trailered the car forwards about 60km to where the rain had stopped and the weather looked (marginally) better ahead. Weather reports from Adelaide had it as sunny with clouds in the distance closing in.
Once back on the road we could see some blue sky off in the distance. Fortunately the GPS indicated that the finish of timing was actually in the distance of the blue patch but we weren't even heading remotely towards it at the moment.
We climbed a really big hill and did our driver change at the top of the hill. Ian went into the car. Ian has a knack for causing uncommon things to break in the car. Ian was in the car when we tried to leave the licensing centre and a 0.5A fuse blew in the electronics causing the car to sit there dead. We don't think it's him especially but they seem to happen when he's in the car. We had our biggest car failure of the race about 5 minutes after Ian was in the car. We simultaneously lost temperature and voltage readings on the telemetry and dash. This implied that something was wrong with one of the AVR processors in the car and this was bad news.
The temperature readings seemed to come good shortly afterwards but the voltage remained at a random value that wasn't particularly useful. We stopped the car, turned it off and turned it back on in case it was a software problem that a power cycle would fix. It didn't so we drove on. We eventually reached a place we could pull over safely in Port Wakefield. We got the top off the car and started searching for potential problems. Peter quickly found that a connector had fallen out and berrated himself because he never actually bothered screwing it in. It had done so many kilometres succesfully he just never got around to doing it because it had been doing so well. After about 5 minutes stopped we were back on the road.
We edged closer and closer to the blue patch with Sally and Craig sticking their heads out the window and looking at the sun to figure out where the clouds were going. We got to within about 4km of empty batteries when we finally broke out into the sun and got some phenomenal charging. We dropped the speed down because we had a margin of error to reach the finish line and we may as well stay in the sun as long as possible. After driving seemingly forever at about 20km/h we picked the speed up because the big sunny patch was reaching an end. We now had almost enough power to make the finish line and the ambient light should provide enough to make up the difference while we are driving to the finish line.
The unfortunate part of all of this is that even though it was only 4:00pm our time it was 5:00pm Adelaide time and we were going to have to drive from the outer burbs to the CBD it peak hour traffic.
Finally there was much rejoycing as we crossed the finish of timing shortly after 4:00pm. Now all we had to do was drive to the finish line under our own power.
The light was not our friend and we were tight with our energy budget to make the finish line by 5:10pm. To add excitement to it all we had several TV camera crews come and get footage of us, often involving bizarre car antics trying to get that elusive shot.
We had a lot of excitment at Gepp's Cross. It still gives some of the team nightmares. The cycle of the lights was about 10-15 seconds before they went orange. We had to get the lead car and trailer, the solar car and the follow vehicle through in this time. It took about 4 cycles of the lights just to get to the front and then we had to do the nice casual run the red light and get the 3 cars through before the next lot of cars got to go. If this sounds bizarre you have to remember that Gepp's cross is an intersection with 5 roads entering it.
We now had a number of hills to go up and down. The speed for the first hill was 20km/h, then Fe was told 17km/h for the next and then 15km/h for the next. the battery voltage was getting dangerously low and we no longer had any altitude data for the remainder of the drive. We actually had no idea whether we were going up or down big hills or not. Thankfully the drive down to the finish line was predominantly downhill for the last couple of kilometers and we crossed the finish line at 5:01PM.
The car was scrutineered and we were officially signed off as finished.
The most exciting incident for the car then occured when some 3 year old kid walked across the top of the solar array while it was sitting on the ground. Everyone screamed and someone grabbed him off the array. The amazing thing is that all you could see were three footprints with no obvious signs of damage.
We pulled the batteries to take them home to charge so that we actually had enough power for the parade tomorrow and wheeled the car into the parade hall where all the other cars that had finished were on display. This was actually the first time most of the team had a good look at many of the cars.
We headed off to Deb and Jim's house. We had listed them as our official accomodation in Adelaide thinking that some people would stay there and everyone else would go off to a caravan park. They were very sporting and let us sleep in the living room and pretty much take over their house for a couple of days. We are indebted to them.
Parade Day (photos)
We took the batteries back down to the parade ground, got Sungroper out of the hall and reinstalled the batteries. They were still quite low and we were wondering about whether there was enough for the parade. It was uphill to start with and it was very bad weather again with only about 150 watts from the array.
We did make it and had a fun parade up the main street of Adelaide cheering at all the spectators and cameras. A good time was had by all.
The closing ceremony was tuesday evening and many t-shirts were exchanged. Sadly Sungroper didn't win any awards but we did find out that we got at least one officials vote (out of 8 or 9 who voted) for the Safety Award that was eventually won by Alpha Centauri who won the race too.
The following day was rest day where some of the team were delivered to the airport. We exchanged the White car for a rental car that Shay and Fe were going to take to the wine growing regions for the remainder of their stay. We fixed the trailer that had been munged in Darwin on the starting grid. Craig bought a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones he lost the day before the race and the CD supplies were replenished for the trip home. Skip was coming down with a cold and bought a short notice one way ticket back to Perth because we wasn't sure he'd survive 3-4 more days in the car.
The drive home was uneventful but filled with large things. A giant galah, A giant Whale, a giant Roo, Another giant Whale. Must be something about the climate that makes them all grow so big.
We drove to Ceduna the first night, Caiguna Roadhouse the second night and Merredin the third night. If it hadn't been for the fact that we'd arranged to be on display for Merredin High School on sunday morning we probably would have ploughed on home and arrived saturday night. We spent an evening in Merredin and had the car on display for the High School near the tourist centre in Merredin on Sunday Morning. We headed for home and arrived back just after midday.
29 days, 11,000km driven, 2301.5km raced, 100% adventure.