Bridgestone World Solar Challenge – Day 1

Let’s Go to the Outback

Finally, the moment has arrived. The 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, the event we worked towards for almost two years, will at long last get started in Darwin this very morning. Our team gets up early as always. We can’t afford to miss a single second of today. With all the excitement going around, most of us didn’t catch a lot of sleep anyway. We make our way to the starting location at Parliament Square without further hesitation.

There’s a lot going on here already. Even though it’s this early on a Sunday, hundreds of people have already gathered on the square to marvel at the SolarCars from around the world and follow the official ceremony. Of course, there’s also the members of over 40 teams. Interested bystanders keep asking us about the speed, power, and appearance of our car, or just what makes it so different from all the Challenger Class vehicles. There’s one entrant missing however, as Lodz Solar Team from Poland didn’t make it through the entire Dynamic process yesterday. Their front axis broke in half right at the finish line and could impossibly be fixed by today.

The race begins at half past eight. Right outside the Territory’s main parliament building, one SolarCar after the other passes the designated starting point, with the rest of their convoys already waiting for them. The events main organizer Chris Selwood is also here to meet them. He introduces every car and team to the crowd, and furthermore wishes them the best of luck on their trip to Adelaide. Our team is in for some words of congratulations for our decision to modify the thyssenkrupp SunRiser instead of building an entirely new car, thus considerably saving up on resources.

Speaking of which, our SolarCar is on its way as soon as given the signal by Mr Selwood. A long line of SolarCars now leaves Darwin and enters the Stuart Highway some kilometers down the line. There’s one more incident though, this time concerning the team from Stanford University, whose SolarCar is knocked out of the competition when its battery catches on fire. Nobody gets hurt, luckily.

A Difficult Start

The thyssenkrupp SunRiser unstoppably makes its way forward in the meantime, soon leaving the Top End behind. Along the side of the road, there’s lots of people waving us on and taking photos. Some even brought chairs and barbecue equipment to watch the entire race pass them by. Those images remind us somewhat of bicycle races or other big sporting events often broadcast on TV.

Our first checkpoint of the day is at Katherine, some 300 kilometers south of Darwin. We arrive here around noon. While we’re not supposed to work on or even so much as touch our car during the half-hour break here, two people from our team still need to fix something. The tracker BWSC officials equipped us with doesn’t seem to be working properly and needs to be switched out. As the problem hadn’t been caused by our own shortcomings however, we’re still allowed to carry on after 30 minutes.

Down South

Our next goal is reaching the second checkpoint at Daly Waters before our time runs out. At 5 pm, we’ll have to stop driving and rest for the night. The tkSR spends all afternoon rolling along the highway only for us to be halted once again by technical difficulties. Approximately half an hour before reaching the checkpoint, our convoy is forced to stop at the side of the road.

Whatever is wrong with the tkSR can’t be determined immediately, and it’s 5 pm before long. Lacking a quick solution, we decide to place our SolarCar back into its trailer and take it to a nearby camping spot. The car should get fixed sometime tonight, but we won’t make it to Daly Waters before tomorrow morning.

The day’s results are positive nonetheless. We put some 540 out of 3000 kilometers behind us; about one sixth of the way there. Our goal of reaching one thousand by tomorrow is looking all the more manageable. We’re also sharing our resting location with several other teams, so our problems from earlier don’t seem to be too much of a disadvantage to us. Everything is working out the way we hoped it would, letting us not lose hope for the coming few days.

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