Sasol Solar Challenge gears up for 2020 race

South Africa’s premier long-distance road race for solar powered vehicles includes secret routes, shorter loops and new towns – and promises more excitement for spectators!

The 2020 Sasol Solar Challenge (SSC) is officially open for entries and boasts exciting changes. Participants can look forward to a new route and changes in race format, with nine participants already confirmed.

The seventh running of the biennial event is scheduled to be held in September next year, once again challenging top young engineers from across the world to drive their fuel-less vehicles across 2 500 km of South Africa’s public roads including, for the first time in eight years, parts of the Northern Cape. New destinations added to the schedule include Bothaville, Kimberley and Bloemhof and, further south, Uitenhage, Kirkwood, Plettenberg Bay and Franschhoek.

Changes to the rules will see competitors having to think on their feet on ‘blind’ days, when information regarding the route is withheld until the night before, forcing teams to strategise on the go.

Experienced racers usually travel each stage several times in advance to prepare for all challenges, but will now need to plan for the element of surprise. Loops on the route – that allow teams to rack up distance and get a lead on competitors – will also be much shorter in 2020.

In addition, spectators have been promised better opportunities to see carefully coordinated, Formula 1-style pit stops in action, while less experienced teams will have more time to troubleshoot problems, since the race programme dictates more stops with support crews.

Teams from across the globe develop pioneering technology for solar racing events. The SSC, held every second year since 2008, is a popular testing ground for new equipment.

Widely regarded as the most difficult of more than a dozen such events globally, the baking sun, violent storms, high winds, changing road surfaces and a record drop in altitude of nearly 2 000 metres from the Highveld to the coast allow teams to gather invaluable data.

“The 2020 Sasol Solar Challenge is once again an opportunity for our team to test and understand the new technology we’ve developed,” says Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) team leader Johannes de Vries.

The university’s car, Sun Chaser 3, topped the South African leader board by covering
2 397 km in 2018. The team is one of the nine already signed up for the event and will compete in Sun Chaser 4, a vehicle said to be 25-percent more aerodynamic than its predecessor, with the team hoping to make it 20-kg lighter, too.

Seven South African teams have entered so far, including first-time participants, the Mpumalanga SolaFlairs, and the University of the Free State.

Returning teams include those from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Central University of Technology in the Free State, North West University, Tshwane University of Technology, and the University of Johannesburg.

South Africa will also host newcomers Team Solaris from Turkey and the Alfaisal Boeing Solar Car Project team from Saudi Arabia. With registration opening only recently, more teams are expected to enter within coming months.

Sasol is the title sponsor for the fourth year running, the company demonstrating its commitment to furthering science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education and inspiring learners to pursue technical careers.

“We have seen this event grow from strength to strength over the last decade, and are proud to renew our sponsorship. The SSC brings maths and engineering to life in the eyes of the thousands of school children it reaches on its route, inspiring them in ways that textbooks simply can’t,” says Sasol’s group brand marketing manager, Nozipho Mbatha.

The event typically draws more than 20 partners and sponsors, with organisers of the 2020 race already having confirmed support from Sun International, C-Track and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). The 2020 event will have a much larger management team than previous events.

“We are looking forward to a bigger, better event in 2020 and encourage solar-car teams, sponsors and partners from all parts of South Africa and world to get in touch with us,” says event director, Robert Walker.

In 2018, the nine competing teams drove a collective 16 249 km across the country. Dutch entrant and global leader Nuon Solar won the event by clocking 4 034 km, followed closely by Japan’s Tokai University Solar Car team, with just 93 km less distance covered.

Both teams compete with multi-million-rand vehicles through which they drive research and development into engineering, renewable energy and aerodynamics globally.

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