Sunswift Racing wins Bridgestone World Solar Challenge

UNSW Sydney's Sunswift 7 solar car sitting against desert background
Sunswift 7

UNSW Sydney’s student-built Sunswift 7 solar-powered car has been declared the winner of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (Cruiser Class) after strong winds wiped out the entire race.

The Sunswift car was dominantly leading the points classification on day four of the 3600km race from Darwin to Adelaide last week, before weather conditions threw the competition into disarray.

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Competitors in the Cruiser Class were required to arrive at Coober Pedy from Alice Springs (a distance of around 650km) before 5pm—but they were all severely hampered by the wind. The conditions put such a toll on all the car’s batteries that none of the five entrants still racing at that point were able to complete the stage in the allotted time, and they were all subsequently ruled out of the rest of the challenge.

Race organisers subsequently announced that the final results would be based on the standings from the previous checkpoint at Tennant Creek, where Sunswift was well ahead of its rivals in first place.

In the Cruiser Class event, positions are based not purely on which car drives the fastest, but instead on a points system which takes into consideration the energy usage of the car, the number of people inside the car and also therefore its ‘practicality’, as well as the time taken to complete each stage.

Sunswift was significantly ahead on points throughout the race until the unfortunate conclusion due to carrying three passengers plus its driver, as well as being ahead of the other Cruiser cars on the road in each completed stage.

Despite that, the team still had to wait until a final scrutineering session on Saturday when a panel of judges gave an additional score to each car based on criteria such as design innovation, environmental impact, ease of access and egress, occupant space and comfort, ease of operation (driving and charging), versatility, and style and desirability.

Sunswift received high marks from the judges and the team were officially announced as Cruiser Class champions at an awards event in Adelaide on Sunday evening.

Following all calculations, Sunswift finished top of the rankings to claim the trophy, ahead of the University of Minnesota in second place, with Team Solaride from Estonia taking third.

It is the first time an Australian car has won the Cruiser Class category in the World Solar Challenge since it was first introduced back in 2015.

Sunswift 7 already holds a Guinness World Record after completing 1,000km on a single charge in under 12 hours in December 2022.

Sunswift Racing team principal Professor of Practice Richard Hopkins said, “I could not be more proud of this team for what they have achieved.

“The work the students have done is simply amazing and I can only say positive things because they have been so focused and committed and professional.

“This is called a challenge for a reason—and it is obviously not an easy race. When you are competing against the best in the world you have to go right to the edge of what is possible. And when you are at the very margins then something uncontrollable like the wind can play a big part.

“But overall what we achieved is a massive success. We were the fastest car in the pre-race time-trial, we were ahead on the road, we were ahead on points and we travelled further than any other team.”

With the 2023 World Solar Challenge now complete, the team of student engineers that makes up the UNSW Sunswift project will now focus on developing and building a brand-new car in 2024 that might not even be allowed to race in the WSC due to current regulations.

That’s because Sunswift 8 is likely to feature hydrogen fuel cells, in addition to solar panels.

Current designs indicate it will be a two-seater sports car that is capable of completing laps of Mount Panorama, where the famous Bathurst 1000 race takes place, only 20-30 seconds slower than the fastest V8 Supercars.

It also promises to be more environmentally-friendly with the chassis potentially made of hemp and flax rather than carbon fibre.

“Sunswift 8 won’t just be a hybrid, it will be a tri-brid, utilising solar, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells in combination,” Prof Hopkins said.

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“It means the car could potentially run on all three of those technologies, or just one at a time. Potentially there will be a little dial on the steering wheel to select which is being used.

“If you are just going round the corner to the shops you maybe just select solar. If the car is being used to drive to Canberra then perhaps you use battery and hydrogen. And if you are doing a lap of Bathurst then you might choose all three to give it the full beans.”

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