Information on this blog is raw and sometimes unverified reporting straight from the road by teams. The event will issue a media release for any events requiring an official notification.

Note that links in blog entries are not maintained, so while a link may be verified to work on the day of publishing, this is not guaranteed beyond that day.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Saturday 24th: roll

Some of you have heard already: MIT's car flipped onto its back during their qualifying lap. The driver is largely unhurt.

Our morning starts relatively early: our array does not at present fit on the car, because of the extra bump caused by the new controller, which, while lighter, is a little longer than the old. We cut a chunk of divinycell foam out of the underside of the array, and the car fits together.

Word circulates around the track that UNSW have crashed their car in road-testing. Their double-wishbone front suspension is very low-profile, which means it contains very large forces: several tons. One wishbone has separated away from the carbon fibre it was bonded to, causing the wheel to switch from vertical to horizontal. They have damaged the front of the car. This is a double blow for UNSW: last race they rolled their trailer with solar car inside, on the way to Darwin, totalling the car.

We're required to be on-track by 8am, so that Peter, the WSC safety officer, can brief each team. He starts at pit 1 and works up. He reaches us and gives us the briefing.

Cars are going out in pairs, separated by half a lap, so they don't get in each other's way. I suggest to Peter that he pair us up with the most famous team in the race: HelioDet. HelioDet, led by Detlef, the famous Suitcase Guy (so called because he brings his car to the race in a couple of large suitcases), is about the same speed as us, so that way neither of us will slow anybody else down.

We await our turn on the track. The whole team is here at the track, and many of them are watching as various cars rush past. Some of them are watching as MIT come out of the hairpin on the far side of the track, go into the next corner, and flip. A gasp rises from the crowd. I run up onto the pit roof for a better look. Later, I am kicking myself for not simply leaping the safety barrier onto the track, running across the track, leaping the next barrier, running across the drag strip, leaping, running, leaping, running, out to the far side of the track to check on the driver. A big-budget car like MIT's will be running lithium cells, and if a short develops, say between the batteries and the conductive carbon-fibre hull of the car, the batteries could have a "thermal event", which is a technical euphemism for "get really hot, catch fire, spit burning metal".

But this does not happen. The car rests on its roll bar. A camera crew who were in the middle of the track run over and check on the driver. Then, I assume, they capture some footage which will be on the TV news tonight.

Some petrol cars leap onto the track and run around to the MIT car. They get the driver out, and bring him back to the pits. He's OK. A short time later, he is taken to the hospital for a check-over.

There is some mucking around with the car going on out there; from back at the pits we can't tell what. But we find out soon enough: they've changed the failed wheel, and remarkably, the car is driven back to the pits under its own power, without its array. All applaud as it rolls past, a damaged wheel resting on the front of the car.

A number of other cars do their qualifying laps, and then MIT's vehicle trailer goes out onto the track. They retrieve their array.

Peter gives us the word: we are clear to move into the pit lane. Matt, a student driver, is in the car; the back of the driver canopy has a P plate affixed to it. Right behind us is HelioDet. We wait at the head of the pit lane for the previous cars to finish and turn onto the drag strip, and then we are cleared to go. HelioDet will be held until we're halfway around.

We complete our warm-up lap. The purpose of this lap is simply to get you to the start line: the entrance from the pit lane is just past the start line, so you have to do nine tenths of a lap to get there. A side effect is that you get to hit the start line running.

Matt runs past our pit; our team are lined up on the pit side of the barrier, cheering. I cross the track to the drag strip. Matt completes his lap. He goes to the turn at the end of the straight, and turns in to the drag strip. John talks him through a lane change test, which involves driving the car through a curve made of witch's hats (translation for Americans: traffic cones) at 35 km/h. We actually do it at 33, but the road testing people don't seem too concerned. Then he continues a little further down to the brake test. This also is supposed to be done at 35; this time we hit it at about 37 according to the radar gun. Matt starts to press the brakes when directed, but he has to press them further than usual, because Steve has backed off the front brake pads. So he effectively starts braking well after the line. But it's OK, because he finishes braking well before the end line.

We've passed. And I haven't hyperventilated once.

Nothing can now stop us from reaching the starting line.

- - -

In the afternoon, we attend the briefing, we pack the car, we return to Alatai, and we do logistic preparation. Tomorrow, we race.

And tomorrow, this blog may stop, or at least thin out. I've tried but failed to get internet connectivity from my phone; and phone coverage is sparse over much of the course anyway. So getting this blog out to the world may be trickier, or not possible. We will see.

-- Doug Burbidge