DARWIN, Australia – The Houston Solar Car team raced out of the starting gate and down the Stuart Highway on its way across the Outback and the Australian continent Sunday.
The car ran like a top but an electronics problem fried a wire draining the team's state-of-the-art batteries and putting the finish line 1,800 miles down the road in Adelaide so far away for Sundancer..
“It was very hilly yesterday and it appears that put a higher load on the wiring,” said Allyson Taylor, Team Captain. “It basically drained our batteries. We'll see if we can recharge, but this will make it tough for us to finish the race. We are not out of it yet.”
The terrain transitions from hills to flat desert on Monday.
Team members said in addition to the technical problems it is hot, very hot.
“It's about 90 to 100 degrees and I'm inside this little box with no real breeze,” said Hunter Moore, one of four Sundancer drivers. “Mechanically the car is running perfect. We have not missed a checkpoint and we got to our final destination at 4:49 last night. The deadline to get there was 5 p.m.”
Sundancer covered 322 kilometers or 200.7 miles on Sunday, the first day of the seven-day race that finishes up Saturday in Adelaide on the southern shore of Australia.
The car limped into Katherine Sunday night. Dunmurra is the next checkpoint and it is 315 kilometers or 201 miles away today. Dunmurra will be followed by Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, Coober Pedy and Port Augusta.
You can keep up with the Houston Solar Car on their Facebook page at Houston Solar Race Team (Sundancer). You can keep up with the team’s trek across the Australia at www.worldsolarchallenge.org. Click “2015 Event” then click “Car Tracker” to keep up with Sundancer’s actual location.
The team hopes the flatter terrain of today's race will allow the batteries to recharge and Sundancer to get back in the race.
“It's flat and dusty red dirt,” said Summer Carner, who handles public relations for the team. “The trees are tall and skinny and don't have any leaves until you get to the very top. It's real desert – it's hot and dry.”
Carner said the team camped out on a grassy patch last night and it was cool when they got up this morning.
“We washed our feet in a sink,” said Carner. “I will say everybody's spirit is pretty good despite the trouble. This is harder than I expected.
“It's been exciting and everything is so different,” she added. “Some of it is neat but some of it is just strange.”
There are 47 teams from 25 countries taking part in the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Cars are rated in three classes – Challenger, Cruiser and Adventure. Sundancer is racing in the Adventure Class.
Once the teams have left Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5pm in the afternoon where they make camp in the desert. All teams must be fully self-sufficient and eat and sleep in the Outback.
The Challenger class is conducted in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide. These are typically research university level vehicles with extensive budgets.
The Cruiser Class is conducted in two stages, with a compulsory overnight stop in Alice Springs where teams may recharge from the grid.
The Adventure Class is also conducted over two stages, with an overnight stop in Alice Springs.
During the journey there are seven mandatory check points where observers are changed and team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather and their own position in the field. Here teams may perform the most basic of maintenance only - checking and maintenance of “tyre” pressure and cleaning of debris from the vehicle.
Members of the 2015 Houston Solar Car team are: Taylor, Moore, Carner, Lakyn Adams, Palmer Earnest, Greg Hollingsworth, Matthew Hood, James Ingram, Malik Lawrence, Ajay Patel, Hayden Powell, Cody Voyles, Layla Westmoreland and Jackson Whitt.