After almost two decades of competition in solar car racing, the University of New South Wales’ Sunswift team has finally taken home a first-place trophy.
The Sunswift team was declared “Cruiser Class” winner at an awards ceremony held in Adelaide overnight, without its car finishing.
The points-based competition grades teams on passenger kilometres, energy efficiency and a subjective ‘practicality’ score – effectively assessing its market appeal.
The team’s car, Sunswift 7, currently holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest electric car to travel 1,000km on a single charge. It took that pedigree into the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge competition, posting one of the fastest qualifying times at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Raceway – and ahead of many lighter single-seater ‘Challenger’ cars – and leading its category for most of the journey between Darwin and Adelaide.
Cruiser cars are required to meet key control stops within nominated times. Headwinds at Marla, 1100km north of Adelaide in Australia’s arid outback, combined with the weight profile of these larger vehicles, resulted in all the Cruiser class vehicles emptying their batteries and retiring.
Still, having carried four people most of the way, the UNSW team was untouchable in its person kilometres rating and superior energy usage.
Prior to practicality judging, Sunswift had a clear lead over its next-nearest rival from the US-based University of Minnesota and the Estonia’s government-backed consortium Solaride.
In the practicality judging, Sunswift 7 claimed the highest grading – 83.3% – ahead of Taiwan’s Apollo IX and the ASCEND car from Geelong-based Deakin University.
It makes Sunswift only the second team to win the Cruiser Class, with all previous events taken out by the Netherlands-based Solar Team Eindhoven, which didn’t compete in the 2023 event.
Sunswift is also the first Australian team to win any competition at the World Solar Challenge since the Aurora team took overall honours in 1999.
It may be the final appearance of the team at the solar challenge for the foreseeable future. Prior to the start of this year’s challenge, Sunwift team principal Professor Richard Hopkins told Cosmos the team’s next car will be non-compliant for the 2025 event, based on current regulations.
The team is planning a hydrogen car for the next event. “It’s going to be road legal from the get go,” Hopkins says.
Several awards were presented during the closing ceremony, with Deakin University’s Ascend recognised with the title sponsor’s ‘E8’ award for its sustainability innovations.
Its two-seater sports tourer was the only vehicle in the 38-car field constructed from basalt fibre and eco resins, rather than carbon-intensive or environmentally damaging carbon fibre or fibreglass. The team anticipates publishing research emerging from its use of lower-footprint materials in coming months.
Solaride, a debut team from Estonia supported by several universities and the national government, was acknowledged for delivering a true-to-design vehicle with the scrutineers’ choice award.
The event’s overall winner, Innoptus, was declared the most innovative team in the competition by the CSIRO for its aerodynamic ‘fin’.
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