08 Oct Mid-Race Update
Hello from Marla, South Australia, about 1950km from Darwin. The team rolled by here just minutes ago.
The team has been too busy running an efficient race to devote much time to any media besides the team twitter. I’m currently traveling across the outback with three recruiters from Google [x], who have come to the race to poach some of the world’s best and brightest engineering talent. We’ll be following the convoy for the rest of the race, so we can provide a few updates on the team’s progress and the status of other teams.
We’ve had great success so far. Our track lap time of 2:07 (our team’s fastest ever) driven by Ian Girard put us in third pole position at the start of the race in Darwin. This allowed us to avoid a ton of solar car convoy traffic coming out of the city on Sunday morning, giving us a big advantage over some of our competitors who were buried back in the fray.
The first day of racing was very exciting for the team. Because of the significant change in rules from WSC 2011, we had nearly no sense of how fast other teams would be going. Our car was well modeled and we knew exactly how fast we needed to go for optimum efficiency – but we had no idea where in the pack that would put us. As it turns out, we both overestimated the performance of some of our competitors and underestimated the performance of our own car in our models. Pulling into the first control stop in Katherine, we found ourselves in 4th place, behind Tokai (last year’s winner) and the two dutch teams, Nuon and Twente. All three are teams that in past races we never would have seen at a control stop, yet now we found ourselves waiting out the required 30 minutes right beside them.
The second day of racing was also very tense due to our trading blows with Michigan for most of the day. Michigan is a team we had our eyes on this year, being our only direct rival in the challenge class from the USA. It took them a while to catch up to us from their lower grid position, but once they did, our cruise speeds turned out to be about the same, and our teams passed each other back and forth three or four times over the course of the day. We ended up with a bit of an edge on them at the end of the race day, but we were still so close that our teams camped less than 100m from each other that night.
Race day 3 was much less tense, but our team has kept up the energy and operational efficiency that have propelled our successful run so far. After waking up before dawn and completing our morning charge with Michigan just a stone’s throw behind us, we took off at a higher cruise speed than we thought would be possible due to the unexpectedly good array performance we were seeing as well as a stiff tailwind that had begun to kick up. We were hoping that we would stay ahead of Michigan but also hoping that it would still be tight and tense, since being within 1km of another team on the start of the third race day usually means that the race is bound to be extremely close all the way up to our arrival in Adelaide. For reasons unknown to us, however, Michigan fell significantly behind early in that day, and we’ve had a clear shot down the highway ever since. They do seem to have fixed their issues and are gaining ground, so we won’t be lifting the hammer anytime soon.
Our team have been doing a remarkable job of running a tight and fast race with no mistakes. This isn’t just the team, however – we’ve had some very generous help on our way across the outback. We’d like to thank the observers and other race officials for all of their work in getting this whole organization down the highway safely. Our team is also extremely grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Girard for following our team across the Red Centre and providing us with extremely delicious food, which is about as important to keeping our team running as sunlight is to our car. We’d also like to thank their friend David (an Outback tour leader and guider instructor) and Josh (a meteorologist from Weatherzone), for giving us the confidence to make robust strategy predictions in this rapidly changing environment.
The weather forecast for today is more sun, increasing tailwinds, and more fast racing toward Adelaide. At this point our place in the standings seems secure, but this is solar car racing – all it takes is one small mistake by us or for one of our competitors ahead, and we could have an entirely new race on our hands. Stay tuned for more updates.