24hr World Record #2 2005


29-30 December 2005

Whilst most of us ate big on Christmas day, played backyard cricket with the family or enthused about the fabulous gifts, we really were watching the 4 day weather forecast.

Melbourne usually starts summer some time in February and up till then the weather can be anything but summery. The Aurora teams of Melbourne and Hamilton were going to hit the track at 9.00 PM Thursday 29 December whatever the weather to attempt a new solar car world record for a continuous 24 hour run. But sunshine would be nice……

Both teams had competed in the eighth Panasonic World Solar Challenge in September with Aurora 101 finishing second to the magnificent Nuna III team from Holland and Southern Aurora withdrawing with an unrepairable electrical problem. The world 24 hour record to beat was set a year ago by an earlier version of Aurora 101 at 1255 km.

Both teams undertook some thorough preparation, mainly to maximise reliability of the solar cars, although looking after some 26 people took some organising.

Rookie Sally Forsyth receives driving instructions

The traditional Boxing Day cricket test at Melbourne's famous MCG featured Australia vs South Africa. The MCG had undergone extensive rebuild in preparation for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games but such is the tradition of this test game the newly laid athletics track was covered by a temporary grass cover. Shortest living lawn in history.

Sydney had its share of the limelight on Boxing Day with the 1.30 PM start of the famous Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race featuring six incredible maxi yachts in the fleet. Their weather forecast offered the tantalising prospect of one of them setting a new event record in the 628 nautical mile [1163 km] dash to the Tasmanian capital city of Hobart.

The weather forecasts got better. On the 29 December we were ready to go. New driver Ian Dyk flew in from Sydney, team strategist Peter Pudney from Adelaide, driver Andris Samsons from Detroit [yep, all the way] and new team member Dustin Marcus from Perth.

Peter Pudney used the flight to put the finishing touches to his strategy for running the event. Start at 9.00 PM, drive on the 30 kg lithium polymer battery until the morning, on sunshine through the morning slowly recharging the battery and then go for empty by 9.00 PM on Friday 30 December. All done and ready for New Year's Eve celebrations! That was the plan. The possible distance with clear skies, 1704 km.

Southern Aurora setting up

Both teams made it to the superb Ford Australia Proving Ground at the hills called the You Yangs near Geelong by 5.00 PM. Our Aurora team members who are senior engineering employees of Ford, Clive Humphris and Viv Baddeley officiated over our attendance as well as acting as scrutineers. The convoy was escorted to the barren infield of the High Speed track where the upper banking is steep enough to hold a car at 100 miles per hour in a neutral force field. We were going to stick to the bottom lane.

Whilst setting up camp, cooking facilities, the portable loo and the telemetry stations [as well as tents] we also dealt with instructing our two new drivers, Sally Forsyth and Ian Dyk. They would rotate in planned three hour sessions with seasoned drivers Kon Kotsonis and Andris Samsons. Both learned there are no foot pedals, no steering wheel, no labelled switches and partly electric braking. Dinner was a selection of four casseroles, salad, desert and coffee ably organised and supplied by Bob Cadden and Lynda Gilbert.

Aurora 101 sets off at 9.00 PM   Southern Aurora sets off at 9.00 PM

Sally a trained nurse, scout leader and famous muffin cooker [also mother of our youngest team member Todd] was determined to 'give it a go'. She did. Twenty year old Ian Dyk a highly accomplished Carrera Porsche Cup , Formula 3, Formula Ford and driving instructor expert still had to learn the controls but settled in quickly and was nominated for the first stint, 9.00-12.00 PM. We were only a week past the longest day for the year so at 9.00 PM it was still bright enough to see the track. An hour later that changed to something like pitch black. As neither solar car had headlights they needed to follow the Mazda 6 lead car, stay focused on the tail-lights and stay awake. The lead car driver had in turn to keep the solar car in sight, the location being just two flashing hazard warning lights. The attempt was on. Peter called for 66 km/h. Nothing much more to do but count the laps, record the state of the battery, hope the drivers were awake and get the bedding ready.

Driver Kon completes his first 3 hour session

At 12.00 PM Ian came to a stop to hand over the driving to Kon. Ian was just a bit amazed at his first solar car experience remarking on the madness of driving with no lights and the relative silence inside the car. Different from the bellowing engine noise of a racing Porsche. But immediately Kon lost contact with the lead car tail-lights and in the dark brushed along the inner guard rail of the track. Scars down the left side seemed to have caused no serious damage and Kon's stint continued. Both solar cars were running reliably.

Southern Auroree Therese McArthur gets to bed   Strategist Peter Pudney contemplates the night session

Andris scheduled his driving session to coincide with the 'awake' period of his jet lag and completed his session as it was getting light, handing over to Sally. The camp was stirring. Bacon and eggs, cereal, coffee passed as breakfast as completely cloudless skies greeted us.

Driver Andris Samsons shakes off the jet lag   Driver Sally Forsyth on her first solar car drive

By 9.00 AM the speed started to pick up as there was enough direct sunlight to not only drive the car but to start recharging the empty battery. As the sun rose so did the temperature, and the wind. We were watching the temperature inside the solar car carefully, well above ambient. The drivers were commenting. By mid-day we were in the high thirties, the wind was at 35 km/h and the peak solar car temperature reached 39 Degrees C [that's just 120 degrees F] The duration of the driving sessions were shortened. The wind was across the track. Coming on to the main straight out of the shelter of the banked track was dangerous with the light solar cars pushed a metre or so off course.. We were also watching the tyres carefully for excessive wear but the special Michelin solar car tyres were holding up well. 'Still black' as mechanical chief Damien McArthur would say.

The weather? Hot and windy

Crying 'give me shelter' didn't help. No trees, no buildings, just the solar car trailers. They filled with bodies. Ian commented that he is used to finishing a race and retiring to the air-conditioned driver's lounge for a cool drink. Dream on! At least we had the cool drink.

Team huddle   Driver Ian Dyk. Its sure different from my Porsche

The speed increased to 85 km/h. Lynda Gilbert bravely provided a great BBQ lunch struggling against the wind. At least the wind kept the flies low. Then at 2.15 PM we experienced a cooling southerly change. The temperature dropped by 12 degrees, the wind eased but was cooler and we all contemplated that it was only 7 hours to go. Just a normal working day. Would the solar cars keep going without a breakdown or a flat tyre?

Lynda manages a great BBQ   Double driver change
Late afternoon

At 3.20 PM Aurora 101 passed the old record of 1255 km. A new record was certain. Southern Aurora passed the old record by 7.32 PM.

At 7.50 PM Aurora 101 broke the 1000 mile mark [1609 km]. Was it possible to make 1700 km as predicted before the winds and driver changes increased the down times? This was now the focus of the strategy and telemetry group. Petre's computer said not possible. Tom Baker's battery knowledge led him to believe there was a bit in reserve. The last 30 minutes had its tension. Finally right on 9.00 PM the mark reached was 1701 km, the battery was exhausted, the team was delighted, the Michelin tyres were still good. A new world record had been set.
Southern Aurora had a celebration of their own achievement. They reliably covered 1339 km, gave 8 team members a solar car driving experience and were going to be home in Hamilton just after midnight.

Can't outrun Aurora 101   Peter Pudney, Tom Baker, Damien McArthur with a lap to go

Australia won the cricket test, now up with the MCG grass.

The maxi yacht 'Wild Oats XI', won the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in a record time of 42 hours 40 minutes, averaging 14.7 knots or 27.22 km/h. It also won handicap honours.

Now on to the next record attempt for the Aurora 101 team. A dash from Melbourne to Sydney on 24 January, just prior to the Australia Day celebrations on 26 January.

Let summer come.