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Solar cars set records tumbling

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The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town was the scene of celebration this weekend as 11 teams from all over the world crossed the finish line after successfully driving just over 27 000km collectively on public roads, using solar power only.
Dutch team Nuon won the Challenger class after completing 4 716km, breaking the four-year old record of 4 630km and beating Japanese team Tokai by 172km.
“We’re really excited – we already started celebrating in traffic as we came into Cape Town when we suddenly realised that we’d won. The team that is here has been working on the car for years, so they were very emotional,” says Sarah Bennink Bolt from the Nuon team.
The Dutch team had to have a perfect day to stay ahead of strong competitor Tokai, who set the record in 2012 and won the World Solar Challenge on numerous occasions in the past.
“Tokai was really good last year in Australia at the World Solar Challenge, and while a lot of people thought we were a shoe-in for the Sasol Solar Challenge in South Africa, it wasn’t obvious to us,” adds Bennink Bolt. “We had to work incredibly hard to beat them – they came out strong this year.”
With new regulations set for the global competition, all the teams will use the South African event to build completely new vehicles for the 2017 challenge in Australia, which is shorter than the Sasol Solar Challenge.
In South Africa, five teams held their own against the tough international competition. North-West University came in fourth position with 3 524km under their belt, and high school team Maragon Olympus managed to beat the University of Johannesburg by just 40km.
“We are very proud of the fact that Sirius x25, the NWU solar car, travelled through the whole of South Africa without ever once being put on a trailer,” says Jimmy Pressly from the NWU team. “The competition was great, and representing South Africa like this was a privilege. We plan on keeping the flag flying high by competing in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2017 with a brand new, better car.”
North-West University had to work hard to come back from an accident during track testing just before the challenge began. But the 28-member team worked long hours, beating two international and four South African teams on the event.
Another incredible achievement on the 2016 Sasol Solar Challenge was celebrated when high school team Maragon Olympus crossed the finish line in seventh place narrowly beating the University of Johannesburg.
“Beating UJ is an enormous achievement for us as a school. This would not have been possible without the efforts of the whole team,” says team manager Marinda Jordaan. “With hard work and a lot of persistence we pulled it off. What the future holds for us as a school participating again is under discussion, but the Solar Eagle will likely retire to a museum after the 2016 Sasol Solar Challenge.”
For the Sasol Solar Challenge, a new record has been set, and teams are already planning their return in 2018 to improve on that achievement.
“We try to break the record in South Africa every year,” says Nuon’s Bennink Bolt. “The World Challenge is only 3 000 kilometres, so this is a tough challenge for us. It takes long hours, early mornings, hard work and a car that is always at its best. We’ll be looking to break it again in 2018.”
The Sasol Solar Challenge director, Winstone Jordaan, says this has been the most competitive event to date.
“The calibre of competition at this year’s Challenge has been awe inspiring to watch. We also had a very safe event with no major incidents – which is always our biggest point of pride when moving more than 350 people through the country on public roads.
“The Sasol Solar Challenge has such a positive impact on the teams that compete that we would like to challenge all South African universities to take part – to maximise the ripple effect that it has on our country’s engineering and energy development.”
The 2016 Sasol Solar Challenge is sponsored by Sasol.