As Sasol’s Solar Challenge got underway in Pretoria, IT News Africa was fortunate enough to be part of a small media contingent that travelled with the teams to the halfway point of the first leg – which was at the Agricultural Museum in the small town of Lichtenburg in the Northwest Province.
These halfway points serve as a safety precaution providing the teams with an opportunity to swap out different drivers and make small adjustments to their solar-powered vehicles. Teams must clock in at 14:30 each day at the halfway mark or risk being penalised and they have to cross the finish line for each leg by no later than 18:00 each day.
At the start of the race, which is held bi-annually in different countries across the world, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom cut the ceremonial ribbon and patiently waited at the starting line for each team to cross.
While not all the teams drove their solar cars across the line (they are allowed to put their cars on a trailer once a day for various reasons), it was a fairly successful start, with the majority of the teams taking to the road in their intended mode of transportation.
The international race also attracted many spectators. Some came especially to see off the teams, while others happen to be passing the CSIR in Pretoria and decided to stop and watch. Meteorologist and well-known weatherman Simon Gear served as MC for the start and the race was also covered by various press houses, including SABC Sport.
There is also a big misconception that solar-powered cars are sluggish and slow – which is not the case. An official told IT News Africa that a team had to be cautioned in 2010 as they were not keeping to the 120km/h speed limit for South African roads. When clocked with radar gun, the team’s car was doing an astonishing 174km/h! This ought to have resulted in a fine, but those rules were not in place at the time. This has now changed.
By the time IT News Africa left the Agricultural Museum in Lichtenburg to head back to Pretoria at 14:00, only the two Japanese teams made it to the halfway mark in time – leaving the South African teams far behind.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor
All images by Charlie Fripp