Monday, 26 October 2015

Race Day 6 - Friday

As we moved steadily south towards Adelaide the temperature slowly dropped. Friday morning was a struggle to get up and out of our sleeping bags with an outside temperature of about 10°C! But with our last night of camping behind us, and the last day of the race before us we all crawled out of bed and got started to our respective morning jobs.

8am we hit the road raring to go, with no need to worry about draining the solar car battery, and 2 teams in front of us we had hopes to catch up to, we averaged a speed between 80-90 km/h. We soon left the peaceful small town road and scenery behind us and hit Adelaide traffic with no other teams in sight - likely also having pushed their cars to the max.

 We finished the race though! Over 3000 km through the Australian outback, the car (and team) have successfully completed the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge as a first time entrant! Wow was the team happy when we crossed that finish line! An absolutely incredible feeling!

After having some photos the car was pulled forward so that the battery pack could be checked for tampering, and then the car was moved to the viewing tent where the public could ooh and aah over the amazing Hulamin! Soon thereafter the exhausted team split up to head to our Adelaide accommodation for a well-earned hot shower and sleep in a proper bed!

This has been a hard yet exhilarating journey, but it has come to an end. Cheers, Minke

Race Day 5 - Thursday

A portion of the team was up into the wee hours of this morning working on the car (which was successfully repaired), and so a 5 am wake up saw some exceptionally tired faces. As we had officially stopped at the Coober Pedy control stop, a portion of the team took the car back there for the morning sunning session while the rest of the team worked on packing up the camp site – goodbye amazing showers!

Back on the road at 8 am saw a (mostly) smooth day’s travelling! Again we passed through two control stops the first at Glendambo (2432 km into the race) and the second at Port Augusta (2719 km into the race). Between the two control stops we had a blowout, which Fiona, the solar car driver at the time, handled very well, safely maneuvering to the side of the road where the team quickly did a wheel change. Back on the road and all was good until the wind picked up and it became a constant battle to keep the car on the straight and narrow.

Once again the 5 pm cutoff was quickly approaching and the team needed somewhere to pull-off and bed down for the night. We ended up pulling over onto the verge of a privately owned race track where the team got to sunning the car while a few members tried to contact the owner. We were graciously allowed to camp within the race track grounds which afforded us a beautiful flat camping spot and toilets – free of charge! Thank you!

With only another 300 km left of the race to go, and other teams camping a mere 20 km down the road, the team was surprisingly relaxed. There was minimal work to be done on the car besides check everything was in good working order and get as much sleep as possible.

Tomorrow we will finish the race in Adelaide, stay tuned! Minke

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Race Day 4 - Wednesday

After a rough and windy night the team crawled out of bed and got to work. At this stage of the race the many late nights and early mornings are catching up and people are exhausted, but everyone knows their role and once personal business is attended to we all hop to it.

Getting the car into position - protecting those wheels from the fierce thorns we camped with last night!
We're on the road again!
The first control stop of the day was at Kulgera 1756 km into the race, which is 30 km away from the state border between South Australia and the Northern Territory (1786 km into the race).

Midway between the Kulgera and Coober Pedy control stops the car pulled over to change drivers. Unfortunately as the car pulled onto the unpaved shoulder of the road a tyre popped. A quick tyre change later and the car was back on the road! About 40 km from the control stop at Coober Pedy Kirsty, the solar car driver at the time, started experiencing trouble with the steering. She managed to get safely to the control stop at Coober Pedy but once the team lifted the top shell they discovered that the damage was quite serious – sections of the steering and suspension would need to be replaced. As a result of this the team could not continue driving until 5 pm (only 30-minutes worth of driving after the 30-minute control stop) and so we found ourselves a campsite (with showers – hooray!) for the night. At the end of day 4 of the race the team had travelled 2178 km by solar, and that is pretty fantastic!

Sunning next to North West University.
Investigating the problem.
Hold thumbs that repairs go well and we are full steam ahead tomorrow morning! Minke

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Race Day 3 - Tuesday

Since we were sharing our rest stop with some other campers, blasting an early morning musical wake-up was a no-go, but Saien did sing us awake just after 5 am. Slowly the camp stirred to life, and then began breaking down – literally, not emotionally. After an amazing breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and breakfast muffins the final boxes, buckets, and bits were packed and we hit the road.

Camp break down.
Being in a support car we are able to stop as we please, as long as we do not fall too far behind the group. Along the days drive we passed some interesting areas, the first being Devils Marbles. Devils Marbles is a Conservation Reserve and the attraction are huge, mostly round, boulders loosely clumped together in the middle of nowhere.

Not too far after the day started the team entered the first control stop of the day at Barrow Creek 1211 km into the race. That went well and 30 minutes later the team was back on the road. Another interesting stop for me was at the Tropic of Capricorn 1464 km into the race.

Driving over the Tropic of Capricorn.

The team passed through another control stop later in the day at Alice Springs after 1496 km, and we stopped to top up on groceries. As the team carried on there was increasing concern about the weather we were driving into. Dark ominous clouds, rain, and red tinged clouds suggesting a wind storm sparked a heated debate about whether to stop early for the night or push on. Rain or a wind storm is not good at all for the solar panels, and unfortunately man cannot control the weather, and oft times not accurately predict it. The debate culminated in the car stopping early and quickly on the side of the road. Although the site was chosen purely as it was the next available clear road shoulder for the solar car to stop on, it had a nice clear area for us to set up camp. We did end up with a few spots of rain, and heavy wind but thankfully at the campsite we managed to miss the dust storm.

We are all hoping for clear skies tomorrow to charge up the solar panels!

Home for the night.
Ominous skies.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Race Day 2 - Monday

Ah nothing like some Johnny Clegg to wake up to in the morning! At 5 am our ‘alarm’ starting blasting (yay for Bluetooth car speakers) and woke most of us up with a smile. You would think that 3 hours to break camp is reasonable, but everyone could have done with more time – and a shower! Many people were stumbling around in the predawn darkness, heading off to find a suitable bush with the morning paper to take care of business. Part of the team lent a hand to get the many tents down, cars packed, waterbottles filled, while others were dealing with getting the car into a prime sunning spot, and other car related activities. Since we stopped at 17h03 last night we had a time penalty and were only allowed to leave at 08h03, but as there was the last minute run around back and forth trying to finalise the car for day 2 of the race.

Sunning the car this morning.
Once again on the road, we silently cruised along varying speeds between 60 and 80 km/h. We went through 2 mandatory control stops, the first at Dunmarra which was 663 km into the race, and the second at Tennant Creek which was 988 km into the race. After going through the second control stop time was steadily marching to the 5 pm pull off, when something went wrong with the solar car. Although it was, thankfully, a short and easy repair it was enough time for North West University to pass us. UKZN and NWU have been jostling back and forth for position ever since the race started, but there are many more days to final reckoning!

Cruising along in the heat of the day!
Getting ready to lie the car on its side.
Cooling the panels.
Emergency pull over for repairs.
Once again with 5 pm approaching we needed to find a campsite. Most fortuitously there was a rest stop ahead which we pulled into at exactly 5 pm. This definitely raised everyone’s spirits as there was (most importantly to some) a good sunny spot to sun the car to recharge the batteries and (most importantly to others) a borehole water tank for a semblance of a shower, a good camping spot, and a braai place! Win all round! Again we split into groups, some dealing with the car and others dealing with setting up the campsite.

Sunset over our campsite.

With the light receding everyone turned on their headlamps, and we made a discovery. All over the ground there were tiny reflective eyes looking back at us – spiders! We also caught a fairly large individual stealthily creeping its way up one of the storage crate. Being in Australia where most species are poisonous everyone was suddenly spurred to keep their eyes open and to be careful opening and closing the tent.

Hopefully we all wake up hale and hearty tomorrow! Minke

Monday, 19 October 2015

Race Day 1 - Off we go!

Well what a day what a day! The race has begun! Adelaide here we come!!

Everyone was late to bed and early to rise again – everyone is quite sleep deprived and running on adrenaline and excitement. Even with the car packed there was the usual last minute run around trying to organize the solar car as well as personal luggage and camping equipment. For this race, besides the solar car Hulamin, we have 6 support cars to transport 20 UKZN team members (and one race official that accompanies us) and all the associated personal luggage, camping equipment, and food – not to mention a variety of spare parts and tools needed to keep Hulamin running as optimally as possible.

As per the time trials done on Saturday, Hulamin was 24th out of 43 entrants off the starting block, but technical difficulties resulted in us being a few cars behind that intended position. The race started from Parliament Square, and I was very impressed with how officials managed to streamline the start. Rules of the race include that the solar car needs to be bracketed by a lead and follow vehicle at all times, so imagine trying to get 129 vehicles on the road in as short a time as possible, because time lost at the start is time never gained back. It was also a very festive mood at Parliament Square as people gathered to watch the start of the race. There was lots of cheering, and lots of photographs taken – it was a time to be able to see all the cars that had entered the race at one time. Our car started and then I was the one doing all the cheering – it is so exciting and such a privilege to be part of this!

The next few hours on the road were rather mundane for me, sitting in my allotted car following a few cars behind the solar car. But for the lead and follow vehicles and definitely Hulamin and its driver it was an intense time - overtaking other (slower) solar cars, dealing with long road trains that buffet the lightweight solar car as they come speeding past, general crosswinds, and managing the solar car at a speed that optimizes car performance.

Each car is equipped with a citizen band (cb) radio, and this became quite important as cellphone reception was patchy, even on our first day of travel. After 322 km on the road there was a mandatory control stop for the lead and follow vehicles and Hulamin. This stop was used to swap drivers (there are four team members who will alternate driving Hulamin), to angle to top shell to the sun, and to spray water on the panels to cool them down. An important rule at any stage of the race when the car has stopped and is being sunned is do not shade the solar panels – ever!

At the end of the 30-minute stop it was a race to get back into the cars and go go go! Once back on the road we had another few hours of driving before the 5 pm cutoff approached. At this stage everyone was getting very anxious to find a campsite for the night. We have to pull at least 10 m off the road and that is a huge challenge with the road side terrain and vegetation. A few minutes past 5 pm we came across a pull off spot – both on the left and right hand side of the road there was an area that had had the grass chopped. When the car stopped a large portion of the team leaped into frantic action setting up the solar car to catch the last few rays of sun, and doing various other car related jobs. I went to inspect the potential campsites on either side of the road with a few others. We decided on a spot and got to work setting up tents and getting supper on the road.

Catching the last rays of sunshine!
Convoy has arrived.
Organised chaos!
Our accommodation for the evening.
As the sun dipped below the horizon and the light faded the most brilliant stars became visible and you start to realise exactly how remote our location is – even more so when you have to break a trail through long grass to do a bush pee! And then headlamps get turned on, and the generator gets turned on and our camp is lit up like central Durban, noise included! With the loss of the sun we had hoped that the temperature would drop, but not a chance, we were all still hot and sweaty with no chance of a shower in the bush when we climbed into bed at varying stages through the night.

Everyone was really pleased with how the first day has gone, so excited to see what tomorrow brings! Minke

Dynamic scrutineering

Saturday was another big day for the UKZN solar car team, with dynamic scrutineering taking place. Dynamic scrutineering involved testing the car’s driven performance. We were a little unclear on exactly what time slot we had been given, and so most of the team were at Hidden Valley early Saturday morning to prepare the car for 8 am dynamic scrutineering if we, keeping with Tuesday’s static scrutineering, were first.

Exciting times at Hidden Valley!
A delicate balance exists between using the time available between testing and before the race to improve and finalise all aspects of the car, and not making changes that are not so big that they cannot be finalized. Saturday morning the team was testing the solar panels and seeing how they reacted to the first morning rays of sun, and as it rose. Luckily for us, we were not the first team to undergo dynamic scrutineering, we were in fact allowed to join the queue of cars waiting their turn at our leisure, as long as it was before 11am. Another aspect of pre-driving car preparation I had yet to see was the torqueing of the suspension. The body of the car was simultaneously pressed down on both front wheels a few times to settle the suspension, and then a graduated dowl was held against the wheel, and the body of the car either moved up or down to align with their chosen optimum suspension height.

As fate would have it, just as Shuvay (our driver for the scrutineering) climbed into the car and we prepared to join the line, the magnetic seal on the canopy over the driver had failed. So commenced a quick canopy change, but by the time we joined the queue there were quite a few cars lined up so we had a long wait in the hot sun. On a side note I need to express how hot it is here. We think, as Durbanites, that we know heat and humidity on a fairly intimate level – Durban can get quite hot and humid that’s for sure! But Darwin, Australia, is HOT! But I suppose it is not so much the heat that is the problem but the humidity. And Darwin, Australia, is HUMID! So by the time we were getting to the front of the queue all life and enthusiasm had been sweated out of our bodies, mostly. We were all standing a bit limply in the (almost) noonday sun but sent our car off with a good cheer and much vuvuzela-blowing!

About to enter the queue for dynamic scrutineering - keeping the driver cool!
It's hot out there - find shade where you can!
Go team!
And they're off - go Shuvay!
Dynamic scrutineering involved a few aspects:

Two track laps – the first lap was an untimed lap to get the drivers in the zone, and the second was a timed lap which would determine in which order the cars were released onto the road on Sunday morning at the start of the race.

Turning circle – as the name suggests, here the car needed to demonstrate that it could turn in a tight enough circle to be released onto public roads.

Emergency stop – again, as the name suggests, the car had to get up to a certain speed (35 km/h) and at the officials mark stop within a certain distance.

The timed lap went well, we completed it in just over 2 minutes. There is not much for me to say about the turning circle other than we made it! The emergency stop was pretty awesome. There were some mild concerns about the stopping power of the break system as they had not very long before been pulled wider to prevent scrubbing on the wheels, but we did better than expected! The car needed to be going at 35 km/h before performing the emergency stop, we were travelling at 45 km/h and still stopped well within the allotted distance, go team!

Dynamic scrutineering over the rest of the day was spent organizing boxes and packing vehicles – a job that took well into the night!

Hold thumbs for the start of the race tomorrow! Minke