The Innoptus Solar Team of the Belgian University of Louvain has won the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge for the second time. On top of that, the team also won the innovation award for the rotating fin on the top of the solar vehicle.
The ‘Infinite’ three-wheeler accomplished the race from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia (3 022 km) at an average speed of 88,2 kph.
Second and third were two Dutch teams, Solar Team Twente (20 minutes behind the winner) and Brunel Solar Team (Technical University, Delft). Fourth was an American team from the University of Michigan; fifth was Japan’s Tokai University Solar Car Team.
The engineering students already won the 2019 edition and drove an almost perfect race. “We arrived first in Adelaide because we followed our own strategy the whole 3000 km long,” says team manager Cedric Verlinden. “We had to react to different and sometimes difficult circumstances on the road, like bushfires (sun obscured), clouds (same problem), strong head and side winds (risk to tip over), etc. We managed to anticipate everything, so we made it to first place.”
After a qualifying round in Darwin, the Infinite obtained the second starting position behind a team from Aachen, Germany. During the first hours of the race, the Belgian team already took the lead and never gave it away anymore.
During the whole race, they were constantly threatened with overtake by the Solar Team Twente, so no mistakes were allowed. In the beginning, there were bushfires, obscuring the sun and diminishing the energy production of the solar panels, so the team had to adapt the driving scheme.
In the later days of the five-day race, the wind became the big ennemy. Sudden side winds can easily overthrow such a light vehicle with a huge surface of solar panels. That’s why the Belgian students developed an innovative rotating fin on top of their car for this year’s race, stabilizing the car and helping it to ‘sail’ along and gain additional speed.
“Solar team Twente was absolutely a first-class competitor; they made it very hard to win,” says Pauline Vanvuchelen of the Belgian team. “We had to push hard until the end, and I think the fin made the difference in the end.”
According to Professor Bart Vermang of Hasselt University, the victory is due to many technical innovations. The switch to a three-wheeler with two wheels at the front and one in the rear (improving stability) and the already mentioned fin was important. “It works a bit like a surfboard in the wind, and they could really benefit from this the last windy days.”
“The other most crucial part of winning this race is to have a sophisticated strategy of how to use solar energy and also being able to adapt that strategy according to the circumstances met on the road. That has also made the difference,” Vermang adds. “Many things can go wrong in such a long race. I’m very proud we made it again.”
“As their teamcoach I’m enormously proud of the team’s achievement,” said professor Maarten Vanierschot of the University of Louvain. “They have two awards to take home and with the innovation award we also promote the Belgian innovation spirit.”
“All-in-all, we’ve been working intensively on this project for 15 months,” says Emma Stalmans, the team’s spokesperson, ” and this is a really great crowning of so much work by so many people.”