Solar car challenge:UKZN team come first in SA

2012-09-27 00:00

THE competitors taking part in the gruelling Sasol Solar Challenge race, which covers 5 000 km around the country, arrived in Pietermaritzburg yesterday.

Today they set off on the penultimate stage of the race.

The race features solar-powered cars and takes place over two weeks.

University teams from around the country have been pitting their skills against the world champions, the Tokai Challenger team of Japan’s Tokai University.

Kirsty Veale, the manager of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) team, which came third overall and was first among the South African teams, said racing against the Japanese had taught them a lot.

“It’s an interesting experience, and we’ve learnt a lot from racing against them,” Veale told The Witness.

Yesterday, Veale said, the team completed 300 km, becoming the first local team to do so.

“It’s been a physically and mentally exhausting race. It’s a 12-hour endurance race. You’re on the road every day for two weeks,” she said.

The team’s other manager, Clinton Bemont (34), said: “Everyone involved has learnt so much from an engineering perspective.”

The UKZN team’s Apalis solar car, which was built by final year mechanical engineering students, took six months to build. They are a team of 12 members, five of whom are drivers.

One of the drivers, Mohammed Mahomedy (22), said taking part in the race had been an exciting experience.

“To build the car for over six months and to get to drive it has been amazing.

“It’s been surprisingly comfortable to drive compared to what it looks like.”

Before the race began, Mahomedy added, each of the drivers needed to have 10 hours driving time in the car.

He said the team was more interested in learning from the experienced Japanese team — who clocked speeds of 120 km/h compared to the 65 km/h of the Apalis — than being intimidated by them.

“It’s an enjoyable race, but it’s not easy.”

Crew member Caroline Reid said they had had an amazing reception wherever they had been in South Africa.

Of the Japanese team, she said their race strategy had been “second to none”.

“They’re so dedicated. They leave by five in the morning and their car hasn’t been towed once.”

Reid said the race was a platform to share information between competitors, and no team had been secretive.

The race started in Pretoria on September 18 and will end tomorrow when the cars return to the capital after more than 5 000 km around the country.

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