A solar car designed and built in a Belgian city of just over 100,000 people has once again beaten some of the world’s best universities and engineering teams to win its second Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
The Innoptus Solar Team’s million-dollar car ‘Infinite’ drove into Adelaide and across the finish line surrounded by its crew on Thursday morning local time.
It was the second car released from Darwin’s state square on Monday morning, and the first home after driving 3,020km through the heart of Australia – about as far as Los Angeles to Chicago.
Infinite overtook polesitter Team Sonnenwagen Aachen 40km out of Darwin on Sunday and was never headed.
The secret to the Belgians’ success was its innovative ‘fin’ – a rotating sail that catches the wind to help propel the car. Combined with an efficient solar array and lightweight but high-capacity battery, ‘Infinite’ was the complete package for success in this year’s event.
Innoptus debuted its fin in last year’s South African Solar Challenge. It then developed the technology for 2023 so the driver could angle it into an optimal position for catching the wind. It’s likely teams will look towards similar adaptations if future regulations allow.
“With the data that we now have we saw the fin had an added stabilisation effect and also a higher effect in pushing the car to a higher pace,” says Cedric Verlingen, Innoptus team manager.
“The regulations are going to change next year and we will see which innovations are allowed, but we as Belgians always look for new things that are not in the regulations, so I’m sure that the next team is going to come up with some innovations that are totally novel.”
Long-time event director Chris Selwood says regulation changes are likely to be agreed upon by the event’s scientific panel – consisting of leading Australian and international scientists and engineers.
“We’re due for a step change in regulations. The scientists and science faculty get together to try and challenge the status quo, not just copy what other people have done,” Selwood says.
“We’ve seen the leading car come in here with advanced aerodynamics – and dynamic aerodynamics with that fin structure. Will that feature in the future? I don’t know, but it’s up for discussion.
“We want to keep pushing new things and not just [have teams] copying what’s been done in the past.”
Infinite’s closest rival for most of the event was Solar Team Twente from the Netherlands. Finishing second was a bittersweet result for the Dutch team, which crashed out while leading in the previous edition, which was run in 2019 (2021 was abandoned due to COVID-19).
Twente’s car ‘Red X’ started 11th but was held up for 30 minutes when teams ahead of it suffered mechanical issues. While it was eventually able to leapfrog most of the field, it couldn’t close the 35-minute gap to Innoptus.
“The last 14 months, creating the car, you do everything to fulfil the regulations precisely and get the best car,” says Solar Team Twente manager Kirsten Bouwman.
“It was amazing to see how it performed, we’ve only known each other 14 months, we worked together so well.”
The Brunel Solar Team finished third after a puncture on Day 4 put paid to its hopes of catching the event leaders. It was followed by the University of Michigan team, which came from last place, Tokyo-based Tokai University and Top Dutch Solar Racing, which have been certified but still need to cross the line in Adelaide’s city centre.
Team Sonnenwagen Aachen, which led the race away from Darwin’s state square on Sunday, reportedly rolled its vehicle shortly after departing Port Augusta on Thursday morning. Reports suggest no crew members have been hurt in the incident.
Other competitors are slowing their pace and will likely arrive in Adelaide on Friday. Jokoping University (Sweden), Durham University (UK), Kogakuin University (Japan) are vying for the final spots in the top 10.
Western Sydney University is the only Australian team still active in the race. It is currently fighting for 11th place with École de technologie supérieure from Montreal in Canada.
The event’s ‘Cruiser class’ will also be welcomed to Adelaide tomorrow. These cars will be judged on passenger kilometres, energy efficiency and showroom practicality at a public viewing pavilion in Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga on Saturday. UNSW’s Sunswift Racing currently leads the scoring.
Cosmos is the Scientific Media Partner of the 2023 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge Follow our coverage.