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Belgian team wins World Solar Challenge in Australia thanks to ‘technical innovation’

02 Nov 2023

U Leuven racers pip team from Dutch rivals U Twente to the post in 3000km race from Darwin to Adelaide.

This year’s Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, in which solar-powered vehicles with a human driver have to make the 3,021-kilometer journey from Darwin to Adelaide, across Australia’s Red Center, wrapped up last week with first and second places separated by just 20 minutes.

Belgian Solar Team Innoptus, comprising industrial engineering students from KU Leuven, has claimed back-to-back victories with a winning time this year of 34 hours, 4 minutes, and 41 seconds – 48 minutes faster than their 2019 win.

The Belgian team led almost the entire way from Darwin. According to the team’s website, “the Belgians’ aerodynamic Infinite car, with its futuristic fin designed for stability seemed to revel in the tough, windy conditions that proved challenging to many in the Proejcta Challenger Class”.

The winning team crossed the finish line just ahead of Team Twente from the Netherlands. Throwing all they had at the Belgian team, their solar car, called “RED X”, pushed so close, at times within minutes and sharing control stops together. RED X celebrated second place with a time of 34 hours, 24 minutes, 58 seconds.

The University of Twente reported that both cars “matched each other in many ways. The Belgians had an extra weapon this year. Although it was called the World Solar Challenge, the Belgian car had an extendable, rotating fin that allowed them to sail on the wind. The fin could probably have made just the difference but other conditions also play a role at such a distance.”

The Bridgestone report stated, “Twente’s compatriots, Brunel in Nuna 12, arrived in Adelaide around two hours later, to take third place. US team Michigan in Astrum was fourth.

“There was disappointing news for German team Sonnenwagen from Germany in Covestro Adelie, which was forced to retire south of Port Augusta. In the CSIRO Cruiser Class, wind was also a factor, with none of the teams able to complete the arduous second stage, the first time this has happened in the history of the class.”

Twente’s technical team manager Tim Woertman, said, “That we finished second, so close behind the Belgians is very sour, because as a team we worked towards winning for fifteen months. But when you see how far we have come and that together with Leuven we finished so far ahead of the other teams, we can be proud of our team.”

Event Director Chris Selwood AM congratulated the Innoptus Solar Team on their “magnificent achievement”. He commented, “This professional, innovative, and passionate team have always been strong competitors. Their hard work has paid off. They have competed in this event nine times, and they now have the ultimate reward.”

Ingenious design

“I am very proud,” Professor Bart Vermang of the University of Hasselt told Belgian news agency Belga. Vermang helped select and laminate the solar cells on the Belgian car’s panelling. The “Infinite” car has an aerodynamic, bullet-shaped design with three wheels, which achieved an average speed of around 88 kmh.

According to Vermang, the victory was the result of multiple technical innovations: “For example, they put a fin on the car that works more or less like a surfboard. It can surf on the wind, and since there was some wind in the last five days, they took advantage of it,” he told Belga.

Vermang added that weather conditions were also closely monitored to make the most of the solar energy. The weight of the driver also had to be taken into account as it also affected the speed. “A lot can go wrong, but I am very proud that we have won again,” said Vermang.

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