Aussies Taking on the World
25 Jul 2019
Ever heard the phrase 'Eat, Sleep, Solar Car, Repeat'? Neither had we, until we met the Western Sydney Solar Team.
Heading into the 2018 American Solar Challenge, the Western Sydney Solar Team had the odds stacked against them.
They were up against The University of Michigan Solar Team, who had won the Challenge previously in 2016, a team much more familiar with the terrain and the environment, and a team with the backing of two of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers in Ford and General Motors.
The reigning champions however, found themselves up against a tenacious team of only 14 people from Sydney, and soon also found themselves in second place to the first Australian team to compete in the American Solar Challenge.
Crossing the finish line of the 2018 American Solar Challenge
Founded in 2012, the Western Sydney Solar Team first competed in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2013, finishing in the top half of their class. In following Challenges in 2015 and 2017, they continued to improve their standing in the final results. In the 2017 BWSC, they bettered themselves once again, finishing in sixth.
Now, they’re hoping for their best result yet in the 2019 BWSC.
Speaking to Max Mammone, a soon to be three-time participant in the BWSC, he explained that their success in America was in part due to their result in Australia the preceeding year.
“The team was still super excited from the placing in the 2017 BWSC – that was our best placing yet. We thought the car had more potential in it – we had some bad weather [during the BWSC] – so we wanted to race it again”.
They chose the American Solar Challenge in part due to the similarities in length of the Challenge to the BWSC (up to 2000 miles/3,200kilometres), but with ambition in mind as well.
“We went there to push the car as hard as we could, to see how much we could get out of it... But it was a big push to get there”.
Despite similarities in distance, the BWSC and the American Solar Challenge differ in more ways.
“The race we competed in was over the Rocky Mountains. In one day, you climbed 2000m and came back down.”
“There was a lot more strategy involved – the preparations were similar [to the BWSC], but there was more refinement in the strategy, thinking about how much more power we would need to get over the hills. We were doing a lot more calculations on the fly”.
Weather was also vastly different in middle America during the month of July - a pleasant average of 20 degrees celsius each day - compared to October in the middle of Australia, one of the hottest and driest countries on the planet. As the team's driver, Max was 'extremely comfortable'.
Despite pleasant driving conditions though, Max still chooses the BWSC as his favourite experience out of the two Challenges.
“I like how [the BWSC] is raw and barren. When you’re in the middle of the dessert, there isn’t an opportunity to run out to a shop for spare parts. You have to prepare yourself not only for the team and the Challenge, but for what goes wrong as well. In America you can run down to Costco. For solar car parts, you’d be surprised how creative you can get”.
After finishing with the win in Oregon, the team came home to continued celebrations, capped with a personal message from then Prime Minister of Australia Malcom Turnbull.
Now, the team is filled with confidence heading into their final preparations for the BWSC.
“What’s keeping me [in the team] is the overall push to better yourself. The team and the project pushes students to be as good as you can, developing yourself, and your studies”.
This sentiment is something felt not only by the Western Sydney Solar Team, but every other participant too; the privilege to be part of such a diverse project focussed on innovation, and the drive to better one’s self in so many ways.
“Without a doubt, that’s done that for me. When I started studying, I didn’t think I’d be doing anything of the sort. Then, in a few months we were in the middle of engineering one of the most efficient cars on the planet”.
Team members Antonio, Saami and Brad
There are some new members to team WSU in 2019, who are being on-boarded by Max and others in the team who have the vital BWSC experience.
“It’s been a process – there’s been ups and downs. At the end of the day though I think the project attracts determined students; people who have drive to learn and create things. It’s a process that’s taken a while to get right”.
Despite their challenges, the team is bonded and ready to go. Their catchphrase Eat, Sleep, Solar Car, Repeat rings true with any look at their social media pages; a close team bond a huge part of the success of any team.
“Our workshop is our second home – we stay there from dawn till dusk.”
Team members Kieran and Peter working on the team's custom oven - a shipping container specially repurposed for manufacturing of their solar car.
However, like many BWSC teams, this group of innovative and like-minded thinkers are still University students like any other. Although, it’s not just the design and production of the car itself that is required from a BWSC team, as Max explains.
“We’ve got people from all walks of life. We’ve got some computer science students, they deal with the strategy side and helping out with media. We’ve got the mechanical engineering, the electrical engineering students, we’ve got some industrial design students, which I find really helpful. They’re an important part of the team. Their skills come in the manufacturing period, designing procedures and making sure everything is done right.”
“We’ve also got a few from media and marketing, a few communications… Our team is very self-sufficient – we source our own sponsors, do our own media. The comms students have a lot to offer. There’s more than just building a car – there’s no point in having it if we can’t race it”
It's not just about building a solar car. The team went Go-Karting for some team bonding.
Like many University based teams, the WSU team members will carry invaluable lessons from the BWSC through into their careers, which will be just as diverse as the team members themselves.
“Everyone really enjoys being part of it, at the end of the day we’re in it to push engineering to the absolute limit. Whether it be renewable, automotive, electronics...”
“There’s some people on the team that are looking towards renewable technologies [for their career prospects], in terms of efficiencies and whatnot. The majority of the mechanical team are interested in the motorsport industry. There’s a lot of interesting carbon fibre engineering – there’s a lot of high-end products, medical products, aerospace equipment, aerospace products… The automotive industry is using it a lot more.”
Who knows, one day in the not too distant future we may see former Western Sydney Solar Team members leading an all-new motorsport category racing solar vehicles.
Looking ahead to October, what can we expect from Western Sydney?
“We’re in it to win it. We’re pushing as hard as we can. We’re driving to win”.
Fighting words, from a team that is facing a formidable opponent in Vattenfall (Netherlands), who have topped the Challenger class for the past 3 editions of the BWSC.
“We learnt in the US to not worry about the competition, and just race the best that we can. We can carry that mentality out into [the BWSC] and push ourselves to the limit, not worrying about what anyone else is doing.”
Sounds like a plan to us.
The Western Sydney University Solar Team will be revealing their 2019 car on August 7, but are keeping tight lipped until then.
“It’s an interesting car, and interesting idea… It will be something different, which will be very cool. We’ve tried everything we can in manufacturing to remove weight where possible.”
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge runs from October 13 - 20 2019, starting in Darwin and finishing in Adelaide, South Australia.
Images courtesy of Western Sydney Solar Team