The lead changed dramatically in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC) on the final stretch. Vattenfall Solar Team’s Nuna X was taken out of the Challenger Class race, catching fire just before Mambray Creek, 263 kilometres from the Adelaide finish line. Belgian team Agoria, who were just two and a half minutes behind, surged ahead to claim their first BWSC title.
While the cause of fire is still unknown, the accident left the Vattenfall solar team devastated. It is the first time in the twenty-year history of the team that the reigning world champion did not reach the finish line. The driver was able to park the car at the side of the road and was unhurt.
“I am standing next to a burning pile of carbon,” says driver Tim van Leeuwen, one of the four drivers of the solar car. “There is a strong feeling of disbelief in our team. It seemed we had the wind in our back: we were in the lead, driving 100 kilometers per hour, when I smelled something burning. I asked our chase vehicle if it could be the car, but all measured values appeared normal. It wasn’t long before smoke filled up the cockpit, I immediately knew something was wrong.”
The accident followed another drama in this year’s competition with another Dutch car, RED E from Solar Team Twente, crashing out of the race on Wednesday. Organisers said “unprecedented” wind gusts flipped the solar car just north of Coober Pedy. The weather conditions also claimed German team Sonnenwagen and Kogakuin from Japan with their cars blown off the road.
Hours after the Vattenfall accident, Belgian team Agoria claimed its first BWSC victory when its car crossed the finish line. The team charged into the lead on Thursday morning, after they shortened their gap from just over 40 minutes, to just two minutes, and celebrated the incredible achievement. Japan’s Tokai University Solar Car Team came in second, followed by University of Michigan Solar Car Team.
On Saturday, the Cruiser Class judging will take place, where each team’s car is judged on various elements such as design innovation, environmental impact, ease of access and egress, occupant space and comfort, versatility and style.
The remaining Challenger, Cruiser and Adventure Class cars are all working hard to complete the final leg of their BWSC journey, and celebrate their efforts on the finish line.