International solar car races wrap ahead of 2023’s World Solar Challenge

The world’s leading solar car racing teams have taken victory in key domestic events this month.

Endurance races held in South Africa, Europe and the USA are important precursors to the biennial World Solar Challenge between Darwin and Adelaide, Australia in 2023.

Primarily contested by university-backed teams, some of which invest millions into the development of cutting-edge solar-powered race cars, the domestic racing calendar wrapped-up on the weekend with arguably the world’s best solar car racing team taking victory in Cape Town.

The Brunel Solar Team – from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands – won the South African solar race by 38 kilometres from Belgium’s Agoria Solar Team.

Those two outfits are among the world’s leading developers of competition solar cars. Brunel has won the premier World Solar Challenge event a record seven times, and famously made international headlines after its car ignited just kilometres from the finish line in the most recent edition of that race in 2019. It was eventually won by Agoria.

Team members of a solar car racing team pose around their car
The MIT Solar Team won the American Solar Car Challenge in Idaho / Credit: MIT Solar Team

The most recent win in South Africa was the team’s fourth in a row in that event – a seven-day stage race starting in Johannesburg.

It comes after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the American Solar Challenge held between Kansas City in Missouri and Twin Falls, ahead of teams from Principia College and Kentucky University.

Meanwhile Europe’s premier solar car event – a 24-hour endurance race at Circuit Zolder in Belgium – was won by Germany’s Sonnenwagen team which had two cars place in the top two after a full day of competition. Its cars completed 285 and 258 laps of the four-kilometre circuit respectively, just ahead of the ITU Turkey team.

They finished ahead of the ITU (Turkey) team. A team from Hoschule Bochum (Germany) finished fourth overall and first in the ‘Cruiser’ class.

Solar car racing emerged in the 1980s with the first World Solar Challenge contested between Darwin and Adelaide in Australia.

Unlike the stage-based American and South African events where winners determined by the total number of kilometres clocked by cars across daily, city-to-city legs, the World Solar Challenge runs indefinitely through the centre of Australia until competitors cross the finish line.

A solar car
The Sonnenwagen car ‘Photon’ in action at Circuit Zolder, Belgium / Credit: Sonnenwagen Aachen e.V.

While the fastest solar cars look like space-age vehicles — small, lightweight, and aerodynamic cars piloted by a single occupant —, ‘cruiser cars’ are intended to be more like passenger vehicles capable of seating multiple occupants.

This category was introduced 10 years ago to encourage the development of practical vehicles which could be considered for mainstream production.

Emerging from this class is the Dutch road-going car ‘Lightyear’, which is intended to be launched shortly and is capable of generating 70 kilometres worth of energy from a central solar array.

Teams will next converge on Darwin in October 2023 for the World Solar Challenge, which will return after a four-year hiatus after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s scheduled edition.

South African Solar Car Challenge Results (determined by kilometres completed)

  1. Brunel (NED) 4228.2 km
  2. Agoria (BEL) 4189.9 km
  3. TUT (RSA) 2682.4 km
  4. NWU (RSA) 2430.2 km
  5. Genuine JV (RSA) 1281.8 km
  6. SolarFlair (RSA) 608.5 km
  7. University of the Free State (RSA) 521.2 km
  8. UniChamps (RSA) 521.2 km*
  9. Seilatsatsi (CUT) withdrawn

European Solar Challenge Results (determined by laps completed)

  1. Sonnenwagen Aachen e.v. Photon (GER) 285 laps
  2. Sonnenwagen Aachen e.v. Sonnenwagen  (GER) 258 laps
  3. ITU (TUR) 257 laps
  4. BoSolarCar e.V. (GER) 251 laps*
  5. Solar Team Twente (NED) 250 laps
  6. Top Dutch (NED) 246 laps
  7. Agoria (BEL) 240 laps
  8. Onda Solare (ITA) 224 laps*
  9. Solar Energy Racers (SUI) 211 laps
  10. Eindhoven (NED) 179 laps*

American Solar Challenge Results (determined by miles completed)

  1. MIT (USA) 1940mi
  2. Principia (USA) 1866.6mi
  3. Minnesota (USA) 1698.8mi
  4. Kentucky (USA) 1676.8mi
  5. App State (USA) 1549mi
  6. Berkeley (USA)1495.8mi
  7. ETS (USA) 1553.9mi (Base route not completed)
  8. Illinois (USA) 1497.9mi (Base route not completed)
  9. Poly Montreal (CAN) 1399.6mi  (Base route not completed)
  10. Iowa State (USA) 18mi (Base route not completed)

*denotes multiple-occupant vehicle category

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