Fiery end to World Solar Challenge sees Belgian team take first title
Holland’s Nuna solar car appeared all set to claim another crown at this year’s World Solar Challenge, until disaster struck within a couple of hundred miles of the finish line. The vehicle suddenly went up in flames on approach to Adelaide in South Australia on Thursday, clearing the way for Belgium’s Agoria Solar Team to win the grueling road race for the first time.
The World Solar Challenge is a solar-powered endurance race covering 3,000 km (1864 mi) of unforgiving Australian outback between the cities of Adelaide and Darwin. This year, student engineering teams from 24 countries traveled down under with their meticulously-designed vehicles in a bid to be the first across the finish line in the event’s Challenger Class, which is for single-seat solar cars built purely for speed.
Now known as the Vattenfall Solar Team, students from Holland’s TU Delft have been a mainstay of the event over its 32-year history, competing 10 times and taking out the Challenger class seven times, including the most recent 2015 and 2017 editions.
The defending champions didn’t exhibit the same start-to-finish dominance as their last outing, but spent the first three days within striking distance of the race leaders. They were, however, in front after 2,761 km (1,715 mi) of racing, until Nuna dramatically caught fire on the home stretch, reducing the car to ashes on the side of the road just 263 km (163 mi) from the finish line.
"I am standing next to a burning pile of carbon," driver Tim van Leeuwen said. "It seemed we had the wind in our back: we were in the lead, driving 100 kilometers per hour, when I smelled something burning. I asked our chase vehicle if it could be the car, but all measured values appeared normal. It wasn't long before smoke filled up the cockpit, I immediately knew something was wrong."
On the last day of the @WorldSolarChlg NunaX caught fire. Fortunately driver Tim van Leeuwen is unharmed. The accident means that for the first time in twenty years the @VattenfallTeam will not finish. The reason for the fire will be investigated in the coming days. #bwsc19 pic.twitter.com/jTfQrgB5m2— TU Delft (@tudelft) October 17, 2019
This was the first time Nuna has failed to finish the race in the 20 years it's been competing. Leeuwen was able to exit the car safely and is unharmed, but was left to watch on as the Agoria Solar Team from Belgium zipped past and took the crown. The Tokai University Solar Car Team finished in second, with the University of Michigan Solar Car Team coming in third.
Meanwhile, the Cruiser Class made up of more practical solar cars with at least two seats, will be judged on Saturday, while the Adventure Class, a non-competitive outing for cars from previous events, is expected to wrap up over Friday and Saturday.
Source: World Solar Challenge