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.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Monday October 3rd: home

I wake; the sky outside the scout hall window is overcast. I suspect I'll be noticing the weather for quite some time to come.

We breakfast and pack. We also have to get rid of unused food, but luckily there are some circus people next door, who will see our surplus go to good use.

We peel the signage off our rental vehicles. Some are magnetic stickers, which are easy: lift 'em off and slap 'em on the inside of the Sungroper trailer. Some, like the stripy metallic hazard tape around the "Warning: Solar Car Ahead" sign are a right bastard; luckily, we have plenty of student labour to apply to the problem.

We cram everything into the Sungroper trailer and the support trailer, and set off to the city for lunch. We've packed the radios, which turns out to be a mistake: it's _much_ harder to coordinate three vehicles without them. Most of us go for food, while the vehicle I'm in goes to pick up a student's bag. He left it in Coober Pedy, and we got the backpacker's to put it on a bus to Adelaide for us. But it's a public holiday today in Adelaide, so we get the run-around. Eventually, we pick the bag up from the bus company's suburban depot, and return to the city centre.

John and Rodd take the trailers to the shipping company. The rest of us wander around for a while, then rendezvous at the appointed time at the Torrens parade ground. Raedthuys are there, getting their car into a suitable state for shipping. I have a nice chat with their strategist.

We drive to the airport and return the rental vehicles. According to the sign on the side of the terminal building, today we'll be flying Qantas. The team swells as we meet up with various parents, teachers, etc. We check in. (Tip for aspiring terrorists: you don't need to present photo ID if you're with a group booking.)

We take off in the late afternoon, and chase the sunset into the west. The sun finally vanishes during our descent into Perth, but it is not so much the sun setting from us, as us setting from it: we descend towards the Earth, and the horizon moves up and obscures the sun.

As the captain gives his "welcome to Perth" message, he congratulates the Leeming High team on their achievement. All cheer.

I go to Peter's place for a debriefing. Craig is in town for this week only, and since Peter and Craig are the two originators of the Sungroper project, it's too good an opportunity to miss.

Then home.



-- Doug Burbidge

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Sunday 2nd October: finish

We have a slow start to the morning. About half an hour from our planned departure time, we get word that the WSC people would like us earlier, so as not to interfere with the big finish for the World Solar Cycle Challenge, held concurrently with WSC, but over a different course. We roll.

There is some back-and-forth over the radio as to where various things are, who has moved John's jacket, etc. I realise that I've forgotten the pyrometer.

We reach the parade ground. It is disorganised. The logistics area is full of solar cycles, with no room for our vehicles. There is no WSC follow vehicle for the solar car, so we bring our own up. Then the WSC follow vehicle appears (albeit with no stickers, signage or rotating amber lights), so we have to put ours away again. Our solar car has to come up to the location of the bus with no follow at all, 100m along the road and through a traffic light; this is a contravention of our license.

I go in the follow vehicle; everybody else (apart from our solar driver) goes in the bus. We start solaring in, through city traffic, with traffic lights every 160 metres. There is no radio comms between the WSC follow and the bus, so I relay messages via my radio. The rest our crew keep the radio channel fairly quiet from their end so that I can talk our driver in. The lanes are narrower here in the city, and the traffic much more intense, but she manages well.

Just short of Victoria Square, the convoy splits: the bus and follow go into the slip lane at the left of the square, and Sungroper is waved forward and held just short of the finish line. We all leap out and rush across to the line. As I run, I can hear Onno on the wireless mike, working the crowd up to give us applause. Sungroper crosses the line; all cheer. I crawl under the car and check the motor: only 40 or 50 degrees. We gather around the tail of the car for a few minutes for a photo opportunity. Leeming High's principal is here, and she comes over and shakes the hands of team members. Parents of several students are here too, as are a couple of additional teachers.

A student says, "How good is Sungroper!", to general approval; this phrase will be repeated at random intervals by random students over the remainder of the trip.

I ask a couple of WSC officials what we are supposed to do with our car; we are directed to a scrutineering area off to the right. Chris Selwood comes over, shakes my hand, checks our battery seals and tags, cuts them off, and gives them to us as souvenirs.

We sign the car: John wipes the worst of the dust out of part of the tail, and we all take turns with a sharpie pen.

Again I look for an official to tell us where we're supposed to take our car next, but by the time I find one, the solar cycles are arriving, and cycles plus crowd have us hemmed in.

The cycle challenge involves partly pedal power, partly solar power, over a 1331 km course. The fastest average just under 40 km/h. Most are tricycles.

After they arrive, but before they do their presentations, we sneak our car out by moving a bunch of WSC fencing out of the way. We roll it into a vacant bay in one of the display tents. We hang out at the finish line long enough to cheer the French team, Jules Verne, as they come in, then take the bus back to the parade ground.

On the way back, we do our one junk food stop of the trip: lunch at a 1950s themed HJ's.

We return to the hall. A small crew goes to the coin-op laundry at the caravan park to wash the team shirts and other clothing for this evening. Around 4pm, another small crew goes to pick up Sungroper from Victoria Square.

In the evening is the closing ceremony at the State Theatre. In the lobby before we go in, and in the theatre before the event starts, we play the shirt trading game. Team members return to the group, displaying their trophies. One or two people get yellow observer shirts; about four get Nuna shirts. I contemplate the design of an ideal market for shirt trades, but decide that the problem is NP-complete. (This is a special mathematician's word which approximately means "hard".)

The closing ceremony is a closing ceremony; you know how they go. The last thing is the presentation of the first place trophy, which goes, of course, to Nuna. Nuna do a nice thing: they are wearing their shirt trades, so there are eleven different teams represented on stage, including Leeming Sungroper.

The post-awards drinkies thing this year is not a private function organised by WSC; it's just a designated pub. This is an issue for under-18 teams. We ask, and are let in, with all our under-18s wearing wrist tags; but other teams such as Kormilda and Annersley simply don't show.

I have a nice chat with Peter S, the course safety officer. Some of the ways he and I have been thinking to enhance safety turn out to be very similar.

We go to a kebab place up the road for food; the two guys behind the counter turn out a large number of kebabs for us in a very short time. Then we go back to the pub.

Sidd, our first observer, is there; a bunch of our students are on the dance floor, and I tell Sidd he should join them. Sidd tries to persuade me to dance too; bizarrely, he succeeds.

Eventually, John calls time, and at midnight we are back on the bus back to camp.

-- Doug Burbidge

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Leeming Sungroper: Saturday 1st: 40 degrees in 10 minutes

There is no dawn underground. But we are not in a hurry to get going early. We do not bother setting out the array for dawn charge.

We trailer forward to the next checkpoint, Glendambo. While we serve our half hour, we are not allowed to work on the car, but Steve has already removed the chain tensioner from the car so that he can fix it with more steel wire. As we roll out for the checkpoint, we drag the chain in the dust.

Steve is very keen to get some more solar kilometres. I chat to a blue shirt at the checkpoint, and it seems that the road ahead will be flat, straight, with broad shoulders and little traffic for another 80km. We are unlikely to get better road for testing.

But we have not yet driven this car with this motor for more than three metres, and with the complete absence of telemetry, I am uneasy. We resolve to drive for five minutes, stop and measure the motor temperature with the pyrometer, drive for five, stop and measure, drive, measure, drive, measure, wash, rinse, repeat.

So we solar out from the checkpoint. Five minutes out or so, as we are looking for a good piece of shoulder to pull over onto, we reach a cattle grid. With our rear non-suspension, the grid is rough, and immediately after it, the driver hears a nasty clunk. He pulls over.

We push him off the road. The lead vehicle loops back to join us. Steve looks under the car for the source of the clunk, and I crawl under with the pyrometer (a nifty thermometer device) to measure the motor.

Temperatures on the bits of the motor I can reach range from 70 to 79 degrees C. That's more than 40 degrees rise since the checkpoint, in less than 10 minutes, and if it's that hot at the surface, you can bet that it's hotter on the inside.

We trailer.

We reach Port Augusta. It was our intention to skip this checkpoint, as we are allowed to skip one over the course of the race. We intended to merely stop in, tell them that we're skipping, so they don't have to hold it open just for us, and continue; but due to logistical complexities we wind up taking 30 minutes there anyway.

Onno phones me to see how we're doing, what the car is capable of, and generally if there's any way he can help us.

We reach Angle Vale, the end of timing, at 7:06pm. Normally, that would give us enough 2-for-1 penalty minutes to make us start the next day around noon, but since the only solar cars behind us on the course have also trailered, I think the race officials don't particularly mind about timing. Word comes that the race officials would like us to cross the line somewhere around 11am, give or take; we'll see what we can do.

John has had some difficulty finding accommodation that can take such a large number of people. Possibly this has something to do with the speedway a few k short of the end of timing, and the gajillion parked cars outside it, overflowed onto the sides of the road for over a kilometre.

But there's a caravan park just after the end of timing, and they rent us a building that looks like it used to be a scout hall. So we still need to set out all our bed rolls and such, but we don't need tents.

Now that we are returned to mobile connectivity, students scatter around the gravel lot out front of the hall, each finding a quiet corner to make phone calls. Some phones have flat batteries, and so their owners are tethered to power points inside the hall.

Dinner is piece meal: toast with egg, beans, barbecued potato, frozen curry barbecue-reheated.

Many people ask me if I am OK; I explain that I am just tired. Based on the number of enquiries, either I am substantially more tired than usual, or tonight's camp spot is better lit the last five.

Students horse around, give each other wedgies, throw a football, and invent a game involving a rubber ball and a row of thongs. (Note for foreigners: thongs are a form of footwear.)

We resolve that tomorrow we will trailer back to the end of timing, trailer forward to Torrens Parade Ground, a kilometre or so short of the finish line, and solar in from there.

-- Doug Burbidge