Wits Solar Car ready to race

LIGHTYEAR:  The Wits Solar Car will race from Pretoria to Cape Town starting Saturday September 27, the winning car must travel the longest distance in eight days.  Photo: Provided

LIGHTYEAR: The Wits Solar Car will race from Pretoria to Cape Town starting Saturday September 27, the winning car must travel the longest distance in eight days. Photo: Provided

The Wits Solar car is ready to go the distance in this year’s Sasol Solar Challenge which starts on September 27.

Solar cars are raced all over the world, but the South African race is unique in that it is based on distance, not speed, said team manager Kamil Midor.  Midor is a visiting lecturer in the Wits School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering.

The cars will travel a distance of 2000km on the main route with campsites every 230km.  Cars can expand the distance travelled up to 6000km by doing loops that vary between 58km and 132km.  “The final winner is the car that travelled the longest distance during the period of eight days,” said Midor.  Each day the cars must reach the designated finish line by 5.30pm.  Cars unable to meet the daily deadline will be towed to the destination by a trailer and only the distance covered on the road will be counted.

Racing history

Wits participated in the race for the first time in 2012 and came fourth.  Learning from the previous competition, they built the new car with improvements.  “It’s much lighter, much more energy efficient than before,” said Midor.

This is one of the cheapest cars in the competition, and it cost R130 000 to make it, said Midor.  The car can convert 22% of the sun’s energy into electricity said Midor.  This is an improvement from the previous race where they could only convert about 16%.

It’s like a bicycle, just with more energy.

The car uses less energy than a hairdryer.  “It’s like a bicycle, just with more energy,” he said.  The car can sustain high-way speeds up to 120km/h.

The amount of energy harnessed from the sun depends on its angle, which varies during the day.  If it rains the session will be cancelled as the cars are not safe on slippery roads.

Solar team

Up to 20 undergraduate mechanical, industrial and aeronautical engineering students were involved but only 11 students will accompany the trip. Five licenced drivers will take turns every 30 – 40 minutes driving the car because it gets very hot inside, like a greenhouse said Midor.

Second year, mechanical engineering student Nicholas Stiekema opted out of driving because he said it’s very uncomfortable inside the car.  “It’s very hot, in midday sun, with very little cooling.”

One of the challenges Stiekema said was predicting how long things take.  “Engineer’s rule for predicting time – how long you think it’s going to take times  Pi,” he joked.

Third year mechanical engineering student, Alboricah Rathupetsane joined the team because she was intrigued by the solar concept.  “It seemed like a good idea, futuristic almost.”  She said it was a good way to see how environmentally friendly cars would be developed for the future.

Ahmed Lachporia, 3rd year Industrial engineering is one of the drivers.  He is not sure of how well they’ll do in the competition, but believes the Wits Solar car is a “competitive car”, light with a powerful motor.

Besides other South African universities, Wits will also compete against international teams from India, Turkey, Iran and current world champion, Holland. The most competitive university teams are UKZN and UJ, said Midor.

This article was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela

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