When things go wrong in the solar car, Hayden would say in his grimmest voice, “It’s wicked.” But, I mean, who even uses the word wicked like that anymore? Wicked like evil and mischevous, rather than like wicked, dude. Hayden doesn’t really say ‘wicked’ anymore after I made fun of him about it (sorry Hayden). But today I saw how wicked solar car racing really is.
Solar cars make me nervous on the track. On the whole, they are much less stable than production cars and much more sensitive to driver error. Hayden and I photographed every car’s hot lap, from 8am until 1pm, soaking in the humidity.
A few cars broke down before they reached the last corner of the warm-up lap. Some cars suffered during the braking distance tests at the end. Many teams were pushing the limits around the track, and many teams (like ours) were trying to take it easy and keep their car safe. Stanford achieved a respectable hot lap time with no mishaps, falling 11th in the Challenger lineup.
For each hot lap run, two teams would be spaced safely apart on the track to complete their hot laps more or less simultaneously. Somehow, two solar cars ended up cheek to cheek (massive confusion) and luckily got to both go again and it was okay. We watched a Cruiser car’s tail swing out and get real loose around the last corner… but the driver corrected and it was okay. We saw another Cruiser car’s left wheels lift off as it came around the corner… but those wheels came right back down and it was okay.
The real excitement came towards the end, when the ten WSC favorites did their hot laps. For the most part, they were all pushing hard to get fast times. Punch went a bit off the track on the last corner and plowed through some grass, but all was well and no harm was done. Then, with Sunswift and Bochum on the track and Punch to the side doing its braking distance test, Sunswift either blew a tire or a tire became unseated (there was a loud pop) coming around the last corner (going super fast!) and slid off the track. In the chaos, Punch was waved back onto the track after completing its braking test, landing Punch right in front of Bochum, who had no idea what was going on and was zooming around the last corner. It was massive chaos. Luckily, Bochum quickly went around Punch, ended up with a very fast time, and we did not witness a solar car-on-solar car rear ending. At the end of it all, Sunswift’s driver walked away just fine and the car drove off the track with a replaced wheel and tire. Everything seemed like it was going to be okay!
The moral of the story is that everything was okay in the end — but boy, it sure is wicked.
Tomorrow morning, the race starts and we head out of Darwin, which my sticky skin and I have decided is a little too tropical for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to update while I’m on the road, but if not, I’ll see you in Adelaide!