Bridgestone World Solar Challenge – Day 4

Racing the Sun, and the Clock

This will be the hardest day of the entire 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. We covered the first half of the 1200-kilometer stage yesterday. Now we only need to make it across the same distance again, our battery’s charge being much lower from the 600 kilometers already driven. It’s the day our team worked towards for months.

The days schedule is extremely tight. All teams should aim to reach Coober Pedy by 4:30 pm, else time penalties will apply. Whoever can’t make it by 5 will be out of the race entirely. Naturally, there’s a more than tense mood hovering over our heads this morning.

All three cruisers leave Stuarts Well at eight in the morning, as always. IVE and Sunswift are first to leave, while our team has to wait another three minutes. We came in three minutes after five last night, so they’re now being subtracted from today’s time. When we finally do get going, our SolarCar seems on top of things again. Still, everyone manning the escort vehicles is glued to their screens, watching the numbers roll in from the thyssenkrupp SunRiser’s battery and motors. Today, we really can’t afford any shortcomings.

But something does go wrong. Before we arrive at the 180-kilometer mark at the Kulgera Checkpoint, one of our motors fails. While stopping at the side of the road we try restarting it, which doesn’t solve the issue. In the end, only one of two motors carries our SolarCar to Kulgera, with the other one no longer in use. For the following repairs, some electronic components need replacement entirely.

Those repairs rob us of another fifteen minutes. At least the car doesn’t report any further issues. Time is running from us, and it’s not even noon yet. Everyone’s thinking the same thing: Let’s just not be lenient with anything now.

A bit further down the road, a large sign welcomes us to South Australia thus ending four eventful weeks in the Territory. This requires us to adapt in some ways. For once, the top speed is now 110 kph instead of 130. SA is also an hour ahead at the moment, but we keep the time on our watches firmly in place. Everything happening during the race is still being measured in Darwin Time.

Tough Times for Team and SolarCar

No further stops along the route until we get to Coober Pedy. The race just keeps on testing our endurance. Towards the end of today’s stage, our battery’s charge starts noticeably getting weaker. Complications during the day alongside unfavorable weather conditions impacted the tkSR stronger than we thought.

Things are really heating up now, and we’re growing more anxious by the minute. A question comes in over the radio: Can we even make it at all by 5? We answer in the affirmative at first. At the same time, our SolarCar needs to reduce its speed even more, from 80 kph down to 70, and later even 60. Arriving at 4:30 becomes less and less probable. And even 5 won’t be easy now.

What now? Our SolarCar drivers report ever lower battery charges, which keep approaching the limits of our tolerance. All the while, we can’t help but stare at the distance still to be covered. It’s another 50 kilometers still, shouldn’t that be manageable? Maybe not, as time keeps on ticking.

There’s another possibility still. We could place the tkSR into its trailer and hurry to Coober Pedy much faster. This would place us in one of the very last spots for now, but at least we’d still be in the race.

40 kilometers to go. Now 35. Eventually, we have to face the facts: The tkSR won’t make it on its own. The yellow trailer moves towards the very front of the convoy, stops, and is immediately cleared out. Minutes later, the tkSR arrives with the trailer, and is loaded up as quickly as possible. Less than thirty minutes to our last possible time of arrival now. With time running out, the convoy rushes to Coober Pedy. On arrival at the checkpoint, we contact the event officials and have our arrival time recorded. It is now 4:55 pm.

A Quick Breather

We share some very mixed feelings at the end of the day. With coordinated teamwork and some quick thinking, we managed to avert the worst. Team Bochum will keep participating in the BWSC, and we will be here for the final stage to Adelaide. The penalties stemming from a 25-minute delay and 30 kilometers of carrying our SolarCar in its trailer create a burdensome setback for us though. The world championship which seemed so close not so long ago is now further away than ever.

Nobody here even so much as thinks about quitting, of course. We’ll continue to prove ourselves over the next two days, and we will finish the race, no matter the results. Those are still entirely up in the air, anyway. After all, lots of things can happen on the remaining 800 kilometers.

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