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Mixed feelings for Solar Team Twente at the finish of the World Solar Challenge

Twente’s Red E drove over the finish line in Adelaide last weekend, ending the Solar Team’s grand adventure on a positive note. They were greeted by loud cheers and applause, even though their finish no longer counted towards the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. A crash two days earlier just outside Coober Pedy brought the race to an abrupt end for the team. Luckily, driver Evert was not hurt in the crash, but the solar car no longer had enough power to reach the finish. Time to reflect on Twente’s adventure in the Australian outback.

“We have mixed feelings because although we didn’t manage to complete the challenge officially, it did us good to still drive over the finish line,” said race leader Annelies Dekker at the end of the challenge. “After we crossed the line, the whole team made a dash for the fountain. It was such a great feeling to complete the challenge as a team like that, despite everything that had happened.”

On the road to victory

Solar Team Twente was in the lead for three days during the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, the largest and most challenging solar car competition. The race covers 3,000 kilometres through the outback, from Darwin in the far north to Adelaide in the south. Red E started in fifth position, but managed to take the lead by midday on the first day of the race, maintaining this position for more than 2,000 kilometres.

We will never know if the challenge had ended in victory for Solar Team Twente if the car had not come off the road. Fate struck Solar Team Twente in the most unfortunate place: on an open plain with a strong crosswind and little space at the side of the road for any potential sideways movement, right at the edge of a downward sloping patch of red sand.

The accident, which resulted in Red E coming off the road, spinning and rolling over, happened despite the team’s secure strategy. The gusts of wind were simply too strong. Strong winds and sandstorms the day before had also resulted in the solar car having to reduce its speed. It even had to park at the side of the road for a while as the sandstorm was so violent that the cars in the convoy could no longer see one another. Solar Team Twente was not the only team to struggle with the difficult conditions - lots of teams encountered problems, although most of them weren’t quite as unlucky.

Months of preparation

The crash brought an abrupt end to an 18-month adventure. The team of 19 students from Saxion and the University of Twente had worked full-time for 18 months to build a solar car that was able to compete at the highest global level.

The students worked closely with businesses in Twente and other regions to produce an innovative masterpiece using the latest technological insights. Together with the partners, they looked into all possible innovations in the field of solar energy, electronics and aerodynamics, eventually developing a plan to carefully consider which innovations were worth applying to the design.

Challenge triggers innovation

Solar Team Twente’s motto is “Challenge triggers innovation”. The challenge - competing with the world’s best solar cars - produced a technical work of art. Red E is characterized by smart design choices. It is clear that its designers were not afraid to take risks. The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge event organizer, Chris Selwood, praised Red E, declaring the Twente team’s solar car possibly the most efficient electric car in the world. This may well be true, as the Red E is four times as efficient as a Tesla Model 3.

The development of this solar car has made an important contribution to the sustainable transport of tomorrow. The World Solar Challenge provided the ultimate opportunity for teams to develop the parts and systems that we can expect to see in our own cars in a number of years. The finish line in Adelaide was not just a finish line - it also marked the start of some very promising developments.