World speed record in sight for solar-powered car

Sunswift 7 solar-powered car races around racetrack
The Sunswift 7 in action

An Australian solar-powered car, designed and built by UNSW students, is on track to challenge for a prestigious Guinness World Record.

The UNSW Sydney Sunswift Racing team, which has more than 25 years of heritage in solar car production, this week officially unveiled its latest model, the Sunswift 7.

The solar-powered car has been designed to claim the title of world’s fastest solar vehicle and will put its credentials on the line when going for a Guinness World Record at the Australian Automobile Research Centre in Wensleydale, Victoria, in December.

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Sunswift 7 weighs in at just under 500kg, which is around one quarter that of a Tesla Model S electric car, thanks to high-tech engineering which includes carbon fibre chassis and bodywork.

The aerodynamic design also dramatically reduces wind resistance, while efficiencies in power transfer between the solar panel and the motor mean the solar-powered car can travel for more than 1200km on a single charge of its battery.

The 50-strong student team, which is overseen by Professor of Practice Richard Hopkins, former Head of Operations for the Red Bull Racing Formula One Team, hope to break the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Solar Electric Car over a distance of 1000km.

They believe they can achieve an average speed of 120km/h or more during the estimated eight-hour record attempt.

Professor Hopkins said, “The Sunswift Racing team already holds a number of Guinness and FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) world records and we are confident Sunswift 7 can add to that list.

“Thanks to some aerospace technologies, this car weighs just under 500kg, which is about one quarter that of a Tesla Model S. The lighter a car is, the more efficient it will be, and with efficiencies come speed.

“This is a racing car, so we save a lot of weight by not having ABS brakes, or airbags, or an air conditioning system—and we don’t even have windscreen wipers.

“The team has also done a lot of work on the bearings which means there is very little resistance mechanically and we have a very aerodynamic design to cut air resistance to a minimum.”

For cars, there is an industry standard for drag coefficient, which measures the way a vehicle passes through the surrounding air. The lower the number, the less drag there is.

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The drag coefficient for a Tesla Model S, for example, is 0.208. Whereas Sunswift 7 has a drag coefficient of just 0.095.

Prof. Hopkins added, “With very little rolling resistance and very little air resistance, that’s what makes this car so efficient.

“All those efficiencies mean once we get up to 100km/h and take the foot off the accelerator I don’t think there is a straight stretch of road long enough, except for maybe somewhere in the Nullarbor, to measure how far this car would keep going all on its own.”

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