Theunissen, Free State - The spirits of the current solar challenge world champions came crashing down on Sunday after their car was damaged in a minor accident during the Sasol Solar Challenge.
Nuon Solar Team from Delft University in the Netherlands were distressed after they bumped the front corner of their car against a wall, ripping open the carbon-fibre exterior on the way out of a control stop in Theunissen.
On Saturday, the first day of the challenge, the team celebrated after breaking the record for the furthest distance travelled by a solar car in a single day. By the time they reached the overnight stop in Kroonstad, they’d clocked 707km.
The previous record of 658km was held by Japanese team Tokai.
Team spokesperson Sarah Bennink-Bolt said the team were going to work through the night to repair the damage to the car.
“We were doing really well up until today,” she said. “Everything was going better than we planned. That might’ve caused us to be too relaxed.
“I think this has made us more alert. Our aero-dynamics have been good but this is going to mess it up.
“We’re calling everybody now to see if we have all the materials to fix it. It’s going to be a long night.”
Heads were turning in parts of Gauteng and the Free State at the weekend as solar vehicles participating in the challenge started their trek across the country.
On Sunday a young boy at the stop in Theunissen was overheard asking: “Daddy, why are they spraying water on the solar car?”
His father responded: “To make it shiny so that it absorbs the sun better.”
The reason, in fact, that challenge teams sprayed water on the solar panels of their cars was to cool them down.
Event director Winstone Jordaan explained: “The panels are more efficient if they’re cool. The hotter the panels get, the less efficient they are.”
The challenge started in Pretoria on Saturday morning and crowds flocked to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to see the cars off.
The atmosphere was electric as the Maragon Private School Olympus sang war cries around their car, Solar Eagle. Laughter erupted when their eagle mascot had a friendly stand-off with Pukki, the chicken mascot representing North West University's team and its car, Sirius X25.
The flapping of wings and scraping of feet ended in comradely hugs.
During the eight-day challenge, which will finish in Cape Town on Saturday, cars have to adhere to normal rules of the road, including speed limits. The aim is for the teams to clock as many kilometres as possible by doing optional loops each day.
North West University also set a new record for the longest distance covered in a day by a South African team with 560km on day one. The previous record was 300km, set by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2012.
The challenge is also intended to create awareness of solar technology and encourage pupils to pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.
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