Last week, a South African local engineering team, comprising 20- to 70-year old members, took part in Africa’s biggest solar car race. The Sasol Solar Challenge sees engineering teams from all over the world drive their solar powered vehicles on public roads from Johannesburg to Cape Town in South Africa.
The local team ‘SolarFlair’ competed for the first time, making them the first team to be represented from the Mpumalanga Province in the Challenge’s history. The team was made up of engineers who, for the past decade, have been trying to get school children involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
“What we’ve been doing is running a program where they construct a vehicle and race it over an hour on a race track, and we’ve structured it in such a way that it works very well for kids that are from disadvantaged communities,” said Klasie Botha, the team leader about their annual Electric Vehicle Challenge.
Competing in the Challenge was another step taken to encourage the kids, by leading by example on the global stage.
Mangaliso Gxhesa, the team’s driver, expressed his excitement at being part of the Challenge. “I saw the competition of solar cars in 2018. Up until now, we managed to build our own cars. Now, I’m the driver of a solar car. I’m so impressed,” he said in an interview with Reuters.
Gxhesa also addressed the significance of the race in promoting the use of renewable energy. “…especially now in terms of fuel, it’s going up and down, so I think it’s going to be bring a lot of opportunities to other people to be interested on [sic] solar cars.”
Sasol Solar Challenge is a biennial 8-day competition which has been run since 2008. However, the competition was not hosted in 2020 because of the pandemic. There are 3 categories teams can enter in: Challenger Class – where SolarFlair competed – for vehicles designed for optimal efficiency and endurance; Cruiser Class for vehicles designed for practicality and everyday use; and Adventure Class for non-competing cars which bring various innovations to light. The goal for the former two classes is to clock the most kilometres on their solar cars.
The race takes place on public roads, meaning the vehicles share space with regular traffic and even pass through multiple small towns. This is of course exciting for local communities to observe.
The winners of this year’s competition were:
First place Challenger Class – Brunel Solar Team (4228.2 km), from Delf University in the Netherlands.
Second place Challenger Class – Agoria Solar Team (4189.9 km), from Belgium
Third place Challenger Class – Tshwane University of Technology Solar Team (2767.4 km), from South Africa.
Brunel Solar Team won the competition for the fourth consecutive time. The team is also the best in the world, as they have won the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge a record 7 times.
Before Brunel, Japan’s Tokai University team won the Sasol Solar Challenge 3 times.
SolarFlair was able to bag the Rookie Award at the 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge.