The solar car team from Western Sydney University has emerged as the overall winner of the American Solar Challenge, making it the first international and first Australian team to win the competition.
WSU said on Monday that the team won four out of five stages of the 2800km global race, in which teams from competing universities traverse four US states, from Nebraska to Oregon.
The WSU team made a strong start to the race with their care – Unlimited 2.0 – finishing first in stage one, just three minutes ahead of the team from the University of Michigan – last year’s winner.
In the next leg, it was the same University of Michigan team that delivered WSU’s only defeat, which the team said was due to a flat tyre and electrical issues.
In the final leg, Unlimited crossed the finish line 16 minutes ahead of Michigan, in conditions described as “very stressful, very competitive and very close”.
“Michigan is a high-calibre team, they are such fierce competitors, they had a lot to prove by racing against us and they haven’t lost a competition since 2001,” project leader Saami Bashar told AAP from the US on Monday.
“The fact we’ve actually won the competition is unbelievable. The guys are just so happy and relieved.
“There’s a little bit of pride in being able to stick it to the Americans.”
All said, the WSU’s solar car travelled 1700 miles, racing each day from 9am- 6pm through conditions including heat, dust, steep mountains and narrow canyons, and doing maintenance and charging the vehicle each night.
Not bad for a student-led project. The WSU team is made up of students from the faculties of Engineering, ICT, Industrial Design and Visual Communications.
And it is the students who manage every aspect of the production and design of the vehicle as well as sponsorships, marketing and administration.
Manager of the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics at WSU, Michael Walsh, described the achievement is incredible, particularly for the comparatively modest WSU team.
“Most teams had about 20 to 30 people. Western Sydney University had a small team of just 14, making the win even more amazing.
“The race was also physically gruelling for the Western student, alumni and volunteers involved in making sure the car was ready to race each day,” he said.
But it was not their first rodeo, so to speak. The team also competed in the 3,000km trek from Darwin to Adelaide as part of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in October 2017.