21 Oct World Solar Challenge Day in the Life
World Solar Challenge Details
Every day, we drive from 8am to 5pm, stopping only at designated 30-minute control stops. These are usually gas stations, but occasionally just parking lots, and are located every 200 to 400 kilometers along the Stuart Highway. We get out to stretch our legs, use the bathroom, and refill support vehicles and water bottles here; during this time, we are allowed to charge the car but cannot do any work on it.
An official Observer rides along with the convoy, in the passenger seat of the Chase vehicle, and takes notes on what we are doing. Their job is to make sure we don’t break any rules, and also to note if any support vehicles from other teams break any rules in their interactions with us. We provide the Observer with a tent of their own and meals. We get a new Observer every couple control stops.
Our convoy includes four vehicles, plus parents: Scout/Media, Lead, Chase, and Tow. Scout goes out ahead to make sure we know where control stops are and finds us suitable campsites at night. Between stops, they pass the convoy and wait for us to cruise past so they can snap photos, then repeat. Lead is in front of the Solar Car, and is usually the vehicle directly ahead (unless someone merges between). It is usually about 500m ahead and call out large oncoming vehicles, potholes, and debris on the road. Chase rides directly behind the Solar Car, and behaves on the road as if it is one with the solar car: they pass slow vehicles together and go through stop signs together. Chase serves as the eyes for Solar Car a lot of the time, since the Solar Car is so low to the ground. Tow pulls the trailer behind the convoy, so that we always have our extra fuel and personal gear nearby. We store the car in the trailer at night. During the race, we have two parent campervans following along to provide food and extra water.
There are 40 teams, 31 of which are in the Challenger class like us. Each travels with a convoy similar to ours, although many have far more vehicles and team members than we do. We could encounter other teams at control stops or on the road, especially towards the beginning of the race before the teams stretch out along the Stuart Highway.
Structure of a World Solar Challenge Day
All times are approximate — depending on what time we hit control stops the day before, we could arrive at any point throughout the day. For example, we started day two with 26 minutes of control stop! And the sunrise/sunset times vary as we travel south and further into the Australian spring, so they are different each day by a few minutes. Nevertheless, this is a rough outline of how our days on the road go.
5:30am The team wakes up before sunrise to choose an array standing location. We need to pick a place with level ground and no obstructions that might shade the array any time in the next two hours.
5:59am (approximate) Sunrise. We want the car in full upright array standing position right as the sun rises above the horizon, but we don’t turn it on until the array will create more power than the car’s systems draw at rest. This will be about 10 minutes after sunrise.
6:30am The team takes turns monitoring and cooling the array. When not with the car, we are packing up our stuff, taking down the tents, and eating breakfast.
7:50am By now everyone has eaten and the trailer is loaded with tents and personal gear. We bring the car back to level ground, lift it onto saw horses to put on farings, and spray down the array one last time.
7:59am Everyone in the Chase or Lead vehicles is in their place and the telemetry system is running. People from Scout and Trailer make sure the Solar Car driver is properly strapped in and everything is closed up completely.
8:00am We’re off! Lead starts down the road while Scout and Trailer team members guide the solar car to the Stuart Highway, with Chase right behind. Radio communication between the four support vehicles and Solar Car ensures everyone is on the same page.
9:00am Someone in Scout receives a call on the satellite phone from KZSU, the Stanford radio station. We give an update on our agenda for the day and answer general questions about solar car racing and WSC.
12:00pm We roll into the first control stop of the day. This will typically be about 300km from where we started. Because it’s close to solar noon, there is no need for full array standing to normalize the array; instead, we angle the car appropriately and put the car up on chocks as required to get the best angle.
12:30pm The control stop is over, and we’re back on the road. Team members will have shuffled roles, and no one who was driving any convoy vehicle in the first shift will be driving in the second.
4:00pm We hit the second control stop of the day. Since it’s later in the day, we are likely to do full array standing.
4:30pm The control stop is over, but we have a very short shift before the end of the day so we could keep people in their same roles. It will depend on how everyone is feeling — we don’t want any over-tired drivers! The team sends Scout ahead to find a good campsite for the night.
5:00pm End of day. We have 10 minutes from end of the day to find a suitable place to stop, but hopefully Scout will have found one already.
5:10pm The car is situated near our campsite and we have it set up for full array standing as the sun goes down. Convoy vehicles have parked to block wind as much as possible, but out of the way of the sun, and we make sure we are visible from the road so the parent RVs can find us.
6:30pm WSC officials stop by for a visit and to check in with our Observer. They are staying at a roadhouse somewhere nearby and are driving the Stuart Highway to check on teams camped in this area. They may have updates for for us about other teams’ progress.
6:55pm The sun dips below the horizon. While it’s still light out, we will have unloaded the trailer, set up our tents, and the parents will have started dinner. Now, we take the car down from array standing and put it up on saw horses for the end-of-day mech check.
7:30pm The mech check is done. The mechanical team has checked brakes, tires, suspension, vinyl, and anything else that might be worse for the ware from a long day in the Outback. Since the sun is already down, we’ve been using head lamps to see. We load the solar car into the trailer for the night, with the battery locked in one of our other vehicles under the observer’s watchful eye.
7:45pm Dinner is served. During testing this would be something quick — spaghetti with canned green beans and tomatoes and corned beef, for example. During the race, we have parents tagging along with our convoy to make us much more complicated meals with far fresher meat and vegetables. One night we had kangaroo steaks, lamb chops, quinoa salad, and grilled portobelo mushrooms!
8:00pm Team meeting. We go over what went well today and what we could have done better, discuss what we know and don’t know about other teams, and the Race Lead announces team assignments for the first shift tomorrow.
9:00pm Everyone gets ready for bed, with anyone who will be driving a convoy vehicle in the morning or Solar Car at any time tomorrow getting to bed with most priority.
9:30pm Media Liaison makes a call to KZSU, making sure to be far enough from the tents that talking won’t wake anyone up. An alumni or current SSCP member back home at Stanford joins in.
10:00pm Everyone is asleep. The stars are out, the cars are locked, and the Solar Car is tucked away under its array blanket in its trailer.