Team Sonnenwagen Gear up for Race Across Aussie Outback
Earlier this year we announced our sponsorship of Team Sonnenwagen Aachen from RWTH Aachen University in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, set to take place this October in Australia.
This summer we caught up with them to find out what drives the team’s motivation and what lessons they’ve learnt from last year that will help them to gain a pole position.
What is the team’s main motivation for being involved in the World Solar Challenge?
“Climate change and resource depletion are threatening our civilization and emphasize the importance of developing renewable energy alternatives. Our intention with Sonnenwagen is not only to bring these two issues to light, but also show the potential of efficient solar technology. If you speak to any team member, they’ll say they want to be a part of a real-world application that promotes an environmentally-friendly renewable approach. All of us are looking to make the most of our time in university, and being involved in a project combating climate change and helping protect the planet is very rewarding.”
How do you optimize your power-performance with a lightweight design yet keep it robust enough to deal with bumpy and uneven roads?
“So, the aerodynamics are vital. We spent 18 months performing computational fluid dynamics simulations and carried out multiple wind tunnel tests to determine the optimal design, while still considering chassis structure. Simulations were also done on various carbon fiber-reinforced composites and geometries. Data from all of these activities was then compiled to create a final digital prototype.”
Avoiding component failures is essential during the race. In the soaring Australian Outback temperatures and exposure to dust and vibration, what have you done to minimize risks to the vehicle’s reliability?
“Exposure to heat and mechanical stresses during the race are definitely factors. To avoid unplanned stops, we must have a reliable vehicle. The electrical components need to withstand shock and vibration and we’ve specified Harwin M300 connectors, as their beryllium copper contacts can withstand 10G of vibration. Following our maintenance plan, we’ll check the condition and functionality of all components at the end of every race day.”
“It’s impossible to predict who’ll win. We’ve learnt a lot from 2017, and are confident that the car we’ve built can get us a top 3 place.”
What part does driving strategy play in the event?
“We’ve done everything possible to maximize vehicle efficiency, but our driving strategy must also be effective. This consists of long-term optimization, where the ideal speed profile along the route is calculated (based on static parameters like road conditions, incline, speed limits, etc.), and short-term optimization, which extends these calculations by comparing expected conditions with data measured during the race.”
What did the team learn from the 2017 challenge that will help this time around?
“One of the things we’ve learnt is the importance of knowing your vehicle well. Every minute during the race is precious, so we’ve spent a lot of time, while back in Germany and before the race here in Australia, running through possible scenarios and practicing component replacements.”