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.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Thursday 22nd: scrutineering

Early rise. We're due at the showgrounds at 8am. We have already had one trying-to-remember-everything session yesterday, when we packed the trailer at Hidden Valley; we have another one this morning. Nonetheless, we nearly manage to leave without the laptop which contains vital data. I run back for it.

It turns out that I'm the only one who knows the way to the showgrounds, where scrutineering is.

We pull in to the carpark, full of vehicles covered in WSC Official stickers, but empty of solar car teams.

John goes inside. Our registration is right now at 8am, but our scrutineering doesn't start 'til 8:30. We use the opportunity to roll out the car onto the dusty grass and apply a few final touches that will help get us through scrutineering, such as a dozen or so "Danger High Voltage" stickers at strategic points over the car.

We bang on the roll-a-door, but they won't let us in yet: we're a few minutes early. We stand around for a while. Then the door goes up, and we go in.

While we are getting the car scrutineered, so too our drivers are getting scrutineered. They present their drivers' licenses, to prove they are actually legally allowed to drive, and they get weighed. All drivers are ballasted to 80kg, so the more you weigh, the less ballast you have to carry. There's a spirit of fairness about the weigh-in: nobody (so far as I know) sticks lead weights in their shoes or anything, but drinking water is considered entirely fair, so people drink water before weigh-in. A lot of water. Really a lot. And then weigh in. And then run for the bathroom.

First station is a doddle for us: stickering. They stick a couple of big "World Solar Challenge 2005!" stickers on the sides of our solar car. It's not a doddle for everyone, incidentally: lots of cars have neglected the rule which says "thou shalt leave room for our damn big stickers", and have a cross-section like a needle, so the stickering team have a challenge to cut down the stickers and squeeze them on the cars. Our car is the first one the stickering guy has ever done, so he takes two tries to get the first sticker right. Good car to learn on.

Next station is an odd one: weighing. The race rules don't lay down any requirements about the weight of the car. The scales are not very accurate because you can't load all the wheels of the car onto the scales at once. And for us, the scales are not wide enough to fit both our front wheels at once. So we weigh the car one wheel at a time.

313kg. That's not including driver and ballast, but including 70kg of battery.

Next: driver eye-line and egress. The race rules require that the driver's eyeballs be at least 700mm above the road, in order to ensure that the driver has a good view. The scrutineer puts black glasses (really black: spraypainted) with a white line painted at eye height on our driver. Then he turns on a laser level on a tripod, and shines it into the car's cockpit. Well, he points it in the direction of the car's cockpit anyway; it actually hits the side of the car, well below the cockpit. So we pass that one.

Egress is a little trickier: each of our drivers have to prove that they can get out of the vehicle by themselves within 15 seconds. (That's right: not 30 seconds, 15.) "Proof" in this case consists of standing up in the driver's seat, as actually leaping out over the solar array could be an expensive excercise in many cars. Three drivers pass first try. One of our drivers just barely goes overtime, but takes a second try and passes fine.

I duck out to get something from the cars, and get accosted by safety scrutineers who are looking over our support vehicles. Who's your team's Safety Officer? Um, well, actually he's on a plane on his way here, so 'til he gets here, it's me, I guess. OK, so first on the checklist: big sign for the follow vehicle saying "solar car ahead": have you got one? Um, no -- it's at the printers; supposed to be ready today. OK, signs for each vehicle showing that they are part of the Leeming team? No, sorry, at the printers. How about signs announcing your UHF channel? Uh. At the printers.

But we do have the safety vests, the traffic cones, the red flag to wave at traffic when we're emergency stopped, the fire extinguisher, the first aid kit. So that's all good. We can come back and re-present when we get the signs all up, and we'll only have to bring the support vehicles for that, not the solar car.

Next is "on-road", which is administered by NT Roads. They look over the car. We demonstrate the indicators, brake lights and horn, and they walk around carefully looking at things like the master brake cylinder. We've done this same thing in Perth just a week or two before, so it's not too hard. John Beattie has a nice chat to them about the WA licencing people. We pass, and move on.

Electrical. We've already got the array off the car, so Prof John can take a good look. Who's your team's electrical officer? Um, it's me, I guess. We discuss the way our circuit breakers work, and exactly what connects to what, and pros and cons of various means of electrically isolating power point trackers. When we conclude, the only point we're bad on is that we haven't got a sign on the side showing people where our emergency cut-off is accessible from outside the vehicle. It's supposed to be a blue triangle with a lightning bolt on it. Well, I say, tell me how big the triangle is supposed to be, and I'll draw it with this blue pen and ruler I've got in my pocket. Um, says Prof John, and both our eyes alight on a stack of blue triangular stickers on his table. Oh, well, I'll have one of those, then. Done.

Battery weigh-in. This is the last stop, and by far the longest. Our batteries get weighed, a laborious enough process in itself, and then they get wrapped in string. And wrapped, and wrapped, and wrapped. They drill holes in the base boards our batteries sit in, all the better to thread the string around and about, to generally make it hard for us to unthread the string and cheat, by, e.g., cutting out dud cells and replacing them with good ones, or substituting the whole battery pack for a more charged one, etc. One of the team comments that it's all a bit silly really, and that it's really more symbolic in nature, and the battery scrutineering team more or less agree.

We hand our folder chock full of solar minutiae back to the scrutineers, put the car back in the trailer, and go for lunch.

Afternoon back at the track. Couple of laps, tweak something, couple of laps, most of the afternoon. John's gotten word that the new motor controller from Tritium in Queensland has arrived, so he goes down to pick it up from the post office, and drops it down to us at the track.

We need something like a 10% to 20% improvement to have a chance of completing the race on solar power, over the whole car. Aerodynamics (which we can't improve at all, now), rolling resistance, motor efficiency, the whole lot. But I've been suspecting for a while that our present controller is pretty stupid, and that stupidity may be degrading its efficiency. So I've been wanting to get a look at this new controller, and if it looks nice, try it out. That's risky at this late stage, so it depends how good it is.

How good is it?

It arrives well packed in carboard, and when we unwrap that, it's in a flight case: you know, the shiny aluminium case with foam inside cut to the exact shape of the thing it's carrying. Inside the case, the controller is Gold. Literally -- that's the name of the controller: a Tritium Gold, and that's it's colour too -- anodized aluminium. It has a note accompanying it explaining that the manual is for the last released version, version 4, whereas this is a prototype version 5. So it's the newest and shiniest Tritium controller in the race. And possibly the shiniest controller in the race, full stop.

I read the manual: basically the way you set it up is that you show it your motor, and it figures it all out. It does forward and reverse, it does regenerative braking, automatically or on demand, it lets you tweak every parameter you can conceive of and some you can't, it'll run your whole car if you ask it. In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!

And tomorrow, we get to try it out.

-- Doug Burbidge