Firstly a correction has to be made to an earlier Blog entry in which I stated that Tokai had crashed on day one (I officially apologise to Tokai for my error, at the time I believed that this information was correct). In fact it was Umicore who basically totalled their car on day one. I guess this is an example of the rumour and "Chinese whispers" that the teams at the rear of the field receive, there is no one official who can tell us the facts and information about what happens at the top of the field, rumour gets past from observers to teams and to observers and so on.
Thursday night we stay in the Underground Backpackers in Coober Pedy. The temperature 10m underground is cool and for the first time I need my sleeping bag to stay warm. Up early again (thanks to Rick Astley set as some ones alarm tone, waking me) but others have beaten me to the array and it's already set up for the morning charge, well before the sun peaks over the horizon.
We elect to put some extra charge in the batteries. The sun doesn't help us much early in the morning unless you can point the array at it, so rather than use the charge we have stored in the batteries, driving early, we wait for the sun to get higher in the sky when it is much more useful for driving. We want to maximise on road solar kilometres and the solar car leaves at 9:00am. We tow the solar car a couple of k's back to the control stop. There is a big hill that I don't want the solar car to climb I don't want to risk heating the motor and I definitely don't want to take precious charge from the batteries. I push Trent off and walk back to the camp.
This morning I will ride in the bus, the basic plan is that those left in Coober Pedy will finish packing and then catch up with the solar car whilst it solars toward Adelaide. We will then swap and I will drive rear support down to Port Augusta after we have solared as much as possible. We have to be in Port Augusta by 5:00pm solar time.
In 2005 when I spent time on the bus we had a flat tyre (inside rear) which we had to change it was a big job and took quite some time. When I get back to camp I find the bus has a flat battery Doh!!!! We un-hitch the trailer an I roll it out of the car park, which is fortunately down hill and doubly so the bus is pointing in the right direction, a brief push by the team to get me rolling and the bus starts easily. We decide to have the local auto electrician to check that it is charging. Our auto electrician is driving the solar car and my multi-meter is in the solar car trailer, just in front of solar car. The auto electrician checks that the bus is charging and suspects something was left on (other than Engel fridges) all night draining the batteries. We turn it off and then start it again to check that it starts, we decide its best to do it here where the auto electrician is, it's all good.
We pick up the support team and head off to chase down the solar car. We catch it about 90 km south of Cober Pedy and they tell me that motor or controller has cut out a couple of times. We swap drivers, Leonie jumps in the bus with Peter and they head off to Port Augusta. We choose to solar some more and the car goes really, really well, there's no sign of the problems the team had earlier in the day. We are now in the situation that the car is running really well and I could see us clocking up over 250km for the day (maybe more) but our hand is forced by the shortening of the event and the rules that forced us to spend lots of time in the trailer to make check points rather than being allowed to solar. As we tick over 141 km for the day which also marks 950 km for the challenge we decide that we'll trailer the rest of the day. We are about 350km from Port Augusta and it is now 1:30pm.
I am disappointed we have had to stop, the car is running really reliably and we are fairly confident that we have ironed out all of the crinkles. In the last challenge we still would have had another day and a half to go and we could have beaten our past total easily. I console myself in the fact that if I do some simple maths i.e divide this years total by the number of days, and divide last challenge total by the number of days, on a kilometre per day comparison we have beaten our previous best. It's still not quite the same.
We put the car in the trailer and head toward Port Augusta. On our drive we listen to each of the occupant's music the styles vary greatly, I also reflect on what we might have been able to achieve if we had 1 or 2 more days and if the event organisers had relaxed the control stop rules earlier. It is a long drive and the scenery is unremarkable lots of flats, no hills, no trees and nothing out standing on the horizon. We pass the occasional salt lake which breaks up the scenery. Lester our observer, is on his first World Solar Challenge and tells us that this is what he has come to see. He mentions the changes of scenery as we have travelled south and is in awe of whatever he sees.
We stop at Glendambo for a break and I buy some classic roadhouse food, the first for the journey and then remember why I have avoided doing so until now. I casually ask if they have seen a bus load of Leeming kids go by. They say "oh yeah they went through about half an hour ago, but they'll be back soon" I enquire as to why and they say they didn't pay for fuel and their boss is chasing them down in his car. I ask if they can contact their boss and suggest that if they didn't pay it was an honest error and I am happy to pay now. They contact the boss, he hasn't left he was simply going to call the police. I pay the bill and all is okay. It turns out however that it was the attendant's mistake. He watched Peter fuel the bus then come in and purchase some water and food. Peter handed over his card and the attendant only charged him for the food and water. On ward to Port Augusta.
7 km from Port Augusta we see Heliox (Swiss) solaring at around 20 km/h, their batteries are dead flat and they are desperate to make 1000km for the trip. As we pass we flick to their radio channel and wish them well. We make Port Augusta at about 5:09pm, it is windy here, and if I hadn't been here in 2007 in extreme conditions I would have said very windy. It was windy here in 2005 too. We meet the clerk of course who tells us we need to be in Adelaide tomorrow before 12:00, he says not to worry about sitting for the ½ hour control stop and to just take a time penalty. I wasn't planning to wait another half hour. Peter calls ahead to Port Pirie and is told the wind is calm and there is plenty of camping spots available, we go.
When we get to Port Pirie the park owners allow us to stay for free, Heliox also end up here and they stay for free too. It is dusk and the team, after reversing trailers and busses into the camp spot, go about setting up camp. I have my first attempt at putting up one of the tents, I fail miserably and gain an extra appreciation of the work that the support crew have been doing. Some of our younger team members take great pleasure in pointing out where I went wrong in trying to put up the tent. Within half an hour or so the camp is set and the BBQ is cooking up the last of our food, I am very impressed with the team effort, everyone has worked well and things run smoothly. Dinner is a mish-mash of baked beans, tinned spaghetti, eggs, bacon, ham and toast followed up by tinned fruit, we won't need food in Adelaide so we are trying to finish up what's left. No one complains and all the food gets eaten.
Everyone is tired and there is no need for a dawn charge tomorrow so we might be able to sleep past the sun coming over the horizon. 5:00 AM Rick Astley joins the camp with "Never Gonna Give You Up." The student who owns the phone desperately tries to turn it off but by now is fearing for his own existence, for two days in a row many team members and I have been subjected to Rick at 5:00am.
Eventually the rest of the camp rises and we pack up and head off on the final leg into Adelaide. We make it around 10:40am (11:40 civil time) and line up for the ceremonial drive over the finish line. Rhys does the honours. The team bar three, jump in the electric solar bus which ferries team members from Torrens parade ground to Victoria Square, the others jump into the pilot vehicle and call traffic conditions to Rhys via radio. The driver is impressed that our car still has the legs to climb the hill to the finish line. He says many have had to push their car the 2km's up hill. I think of the extra solar kilometres we could have done with what is left in the batteries.
The bus drops the team and we walk behind Rhys over the finish line. Willetton and some of our team members' parents are already here and provide a huge cheer for us as we cross the line. I am very impressed with Willetton and am pleased with how many kilometres they have done, 906. At the beginning of the Challenge Darren told me he would be happy with 750. Photos are taken Batteries are scrutineered and our car is put on display. We head back into town to set up the final camp site, a backpacker's hostel, right in the heart of the city at the western end of the Rundle Mall.
Saturday night we all head to the convention centre for the official closing ceremony and awards. Team members carry extra shirts to swap with others, this is a solar car racing tradition and is probably a much more important part of the evening to many of the participants of the challenge than the awards presentation. We sit through the awards, eco cars first and I count 11 awards for the 17 eco entrants. There are about 9 awards including place getters for the 32 solar cars that participated in the challenge. In past years each team was acknowledged and team managers were presented with participant awards in front of the group. This year it was simply mentioned at the end that teams could pick up their participants memento in the corner of the room.
After the ceremony all team members moved to a large room where the frenetic shirt swapping begin and soon it was difficult to know which team member was from which team. Our team eventually heads off to subway for dinner, but I am keen to talk to a few people whom I have met over the past 4 years. I get the chance to congratulate Dave Snowdon and UNSW on their challenge class (silicon) win and speak with many of the observers, scrutineers and team members from other teams. I guess an unofficial debrief of sorts.
I eventually leave and catch up with the team at Subway however I now seem to have team members from Michigan, Turkey, Japan, Malaysia, France, Germany and England as they are all wearing their new prized shirts.
We retire for the evening.
Sunday, clean bus, pack up trailers, throw out rubbish collect others discarded solar car tyres (some brand new), electrical bits and pieces etc… I pick up Hedgie from the airport and take him to see the remaining cars on display before he heads off on his journey back to Perth driving the bus.
Monday relaxing day before heading to the airport at 3:00 to catch our 5:15 flight home. All is well and we all make it home safely. I am sure many heads hit the pillow not long after getting home. We are done for 2009.
Solar kilometres for 2009
- Sunday 25 Oct 163km Katherine overnightMonday 26 Oct 181km Renner Springs Over night
- Tuesday 27 Oct 65km Alice Springs over night
(Tuesday 27 Oct trailered long distance in dust storms and strong head winds).
- Wednesday 28 Oct 187km Kulgera Road house over night
- Thursday 29 Oct 213km Coober Pedy Underground back packers.
- Friday 30 Oct 141km Port Pirie Caravan Park over night
(Had to stop solaring at 1:30pm to make Port Augusta by 5:00pm)
- Saturday 31 Oct 2km Adelaide 2 km to official finish not counted in total.
Total 950 solar km
2071 diesel km