Meet The Teams

Some of the world’s top solar car teams competed in the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge. The current world leaders and 2016 Sasol Solar Challenge winners, Delft University from the Netherlands, returned to defend their title.

Multiple record holders and winners of the 2008, 2010 and 2012 solar challenges, Tokai University from Japan, also competed.

The South African contingent was headed up by local champions, North West University. Challenging international teams alongside them were Tshwane University of Technology, Central University of Technology, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and a school team collaboration from St. Alban’s College and St. Augustine’s LEAP School, better known as Sonke Siyakude who stole hearts from the very start. 

Take a look at the teams who competed in the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge below:

TEAM | Central University of Technology: Seilatsatsi

CAR NAME | Pere ea letstatsi

COUNTRY | South Africa

CLASS | Challenger

Team Seilatsatsi from the Central University of Technology (CUT) had ventured into completely new territory with their entry into the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge.

The South African team of 20 mechanical and electrical engineers had always wanted to build a solar challenger car but were limited by finances. In 2018, with support from CUT, the Technology Innovation Agency and the Advanced Energy Foundation, their solar challenge dreams were realised, and they worked hard to create a car that was as unique as it was competitive.

In a great show of collaboration between the arts and the sciences, the team of engineers worked with the university’s art and graphic design students to develop branding with an African flavour. Both the car and team names were from local Sesotho mythology.

Seilatsatsi, is based on the story of a chief’s beautiful daughter of the same name. The young girl, who had been warned never to appear in the sun, left her hut in daylight when she fell in love with a young chief from another village.

She immediately turned into a termite hill. But a healer helped reverse the spell, and when she was restored in full sunlight, she was more beautiful than ever before, and brought prosperity to everyone she knew.

The car’s name, Pere ea letsatsi, means ‘horse from the sun’.

Pere ea letsatsi’s design was kept a tight secret, and the team promised that it would be completely different from the catamaran shape common to the challenger class. The design was completed entirely by CUT students, and the motors and carbon fibre build were commissioned externally. The solar array was built by Gochermann Solar Technology, who provided several teams with panels in the past.

Extensive testing of the car’s aerodynamics was done with a 3D-printed model before the actual manufacturing started.

Once the car was completed, the team took it to schools in the Bloemfontein area and shared the excitement around technology and engineering.

The Central University of Technology demonstrated the spirit of never giving up, working tirelessly throughout all eight days to troubleshoot challenges with their car. The Bloemfontein-based CUT clocked a full 110.3 km.  

TEAM | City University of Hong Kong Solar Car Team

CAR NAME | Reysol

COUNTRY | Hong Kong, China

CLASS | Adventure

The Sasol Solar Challenge was the first event that the City University of Hong Kong solar car team competed in, outside of their city.

The team built a two-seater for the Sustainability class category. While the university has been building experimental solar cars since 2015, this was the first time that they designed a fully roadworthy vehicle to compete in an international event.

The ten engineering students were also supported by their university’s School of Creative Media, and the Business and English departments helped with admin and communications.

The students on the 2018 team met each other virtually through online racing car games when they were teenagers. When they landed up at the same university, they decided to turn their gaming hobby into a solar car project.

Because of their love for classic racing cars, the exterior design of Reysol, the car that came to South Africa, was inspired by classic racing cars from the 1970s. Like an ordinary car, Reysol included rims, a chassis and suspension repurposed from an old racing car. Unlike their competitors, the team built a carbon steel body, making their car quite heavy for a solar car.

Reysol weighed 900kg, which is still much less than normal internal combustion engine vehicles. To carry this weight, the team fitted two high output motors and a large 18kW/h GLM battery.

The value of the car was estimated at 500,000 Honk Kong Dollars (roughly R860,000).

Because this was the team’s first solar car event, they weren’t aiming to be too competitive. They used the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge as a learning experience, to test Reysol and collect data with which to attract sponsors for their next, more competitive solar car.

The team from Hong Kong were the sole competitors in the Sustainability class, for which charging is allowed, City University completed 175.5 kilometres. With their hyper-realistic car, Reysol, a crowd-pleasing addition to the event in 2018, they aimed to use this experience to return in 2020 with an all improved vehicle. 

TEAM | North West University Solar Team

CAR NAME | Phoenix

COUNTRY | South Africa

CLASS | Challenger

South Africa’s best team in 2016, the North West University solar car team were back with the goal to improve on the 3 524km they clocked in the previous Sasol Solar Challenge.

Placing fourth to international teams in 2016, they aimed to keep holding their own against the best solar car teams in the world.  To do this they rebuilt Naledi, which competed in the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Naledi, which was named after a star, had a Formula One body shape and first-of-its-kind rotating solar panels.

These solar panels are able to follow the sun – eliminating the common problem caused by shade from the car’s own cockpit. The 15-strong team believes that this unusual design may become a feature on solar cars in the future.

While the university is an experienced solar challenge competitor, the 2018 team – a third of which were women which was a completely new team dynamic for their technical manager.

Historically a project for electrical engineering students, the 2018 build team mostly included mechanical and chemical engineering students.

The 2018 car was lighter and its centre of gravity closer to the front of the car. An entirely new suspension and steering unit was designed to reduce vibrations.  Team NWU believed that their unique software – designed by masters students to measure telemetry - would improve their strategy and give them a competitive edge.  NWU’s other accolades – which they aimed for in 2018 - included the longest daily distance by a South African team in their 2016 car and awards for professionalism, safety and spirit.

In the local battle, North West University’s car, Phoenix finished fourth with an impressive 2517.7 kilometers. 

TEAM | Nuon Solar Team

CAR NAME | Nuna9S

COUNTRY | The Netherlands

CLASS | Challenger

The Nuon Solar Team from the Delft University of Technology are the current world champions as well as the title defenders of the Sasol Solar Challenge in South Africa. This was the third time the team participated in the Sasol Solar Challenge, and they hoped to make it the third time that they won it, too. They covered 4 716km in 2016.

Nuna9S was fitted with a 2,64 m² Gallium Arsenide solar array. The car used the chassis of its predecessor, Nuna9, which won the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2017.    

A completely new team piloted the car coming to South Africa, and they were working on improving its design and performance. For the first time, the team included a software engineer, who worked on a new onboard computer system for Nuna9S.

The ten team members had been working on the car full time since their graduation in August 2017, with degrees ranging from aerospace engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, and applied physics.

To build camaraderie, they also regularly did fun team building activities together, like ice skating or gliding. Two team members supported the 2017 challenge to gain experience for upcoming events.

Because the Netherlands is a fairly flat country, Nuon’s three drivers practised at one of the country’s few hilly race tracks to prepare them for the mountainous terrain and 2 000 metre altitude drop they’d experience on the Sasol Solar Challenge. The team mentioned that they were working on new technology, but at the time, these innovations were closely guarded secrets.

The Dutch Nuon Solar team won the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge, clocking a distance of 4,030.4 kilometers on public roads from Pretoria to Stellenbosch. 

TEAM | Solar Energy Racers (SER)

CAR NAME | SER-3

COUNTRY | Switzerland

CLASS | Challenger

Unlike most other teams, the Solar Energy Racers consisted mainly of 16 – 18- year-old enthusiasts from a small village in Switzerland called Uzwil. The teenagers were sheet metal, electrical and mechanical design apprentices at the Bühler Group factory – a Swiss technology company.

The Solar Energy Racers team has been competing in solar car events across the globe since 2011. However, none of them are full-time solar car racers, and there are no monetary benefits or academic outputs generated by their work. They are all simply volunteers who work on the car after hours in an old garage, and joke that they’re the “low budget, grass roots, garage team”.

Despite this, the team has racked up accolades in their seven years of competing, most notably a top-five finish at the 2013 World Solar Challenge across Australia, second-place finish in the 2014 European Solar Challenge, and a runner-up in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.

The apprentices get assistance from a handful of academics from ETH Zurich University and the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, as well as coaching from experts at the Bühler Group.

The team built a new car, SER-3, for the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge’s updated regulations. The cars shell was made from carbon fibre and resin lamination and only weighed about 140kg. The students did most of the manufacturing themselves, but the drive motor, solar array and battery packs had to be bought. Their budget was just shy of 160 000 Swiss Francs (roughly R2,2 million).

Because the team members were so young, they faced the unusual challenge of not having many drivers to choose from - most of them were too young to have their licenses! A handful of older team members, who were also light enough to be drivers, took on this responsibility.

The Solar Energy Racers kept their spirits high by having a meeting every single Thursday to discuss progress. They were also supported by their entire village. While Uzwil locals couldn’t help financially, they contributed manpower, nuts and bolts, and the local chocolate manufacturer made sure that they had enough chocolate to power through the late nights of hard work!

The Solar Energy Racers from Switzerland placed third despite challenges on the road, completing 2,642.1km in total. Their cockpit cover sustained damage early on in the eight-day challenge, and the team had to repair damage overnight. The group of students rallied, and still managed a comfortable 300-kilometre lead on the next car.

TEAM | Sonke

CAR NAME | Siyakude!

COUNTRY | South Africa

CLASS | Challenger

Sonke is a high school team from South Africa who competed for the very first time in any solar car event during the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge. Fifty students aged 13 - 19 from St Alban’s College and St Augustine’s LEAP School came together to build their very own challenger to compete with in 2018.

Sonke means “together”, while the car name Siyakude means “we will go far”.

The students designed and built the car from scratch themselves. To guide them, the schools set up a steering committee of parents, staff and former students who had expertise in aerodynamics, mechanics and electrical engineering.

The team went on two special camps dedicated to preparing for the Sasol Solar Challenge. In this dedicated space, they designed the car, tested the wheels and solar panels, and were supervised in soldering, crimping, connecting batteries and programming the onboard telemetry system. They also underwent extensive safety briefings.

The build was also used as material for their regular curriculum. In one of the school’s science labs, car designs were scribbled on a glass window, and a square box covered in fibre glass was evidence of the team practising their fibre-glassing skills.

St Alban’s science teacher and Sonke team manager, Rob Lodge, let the students chose from three different chassis types for their challenger. They chose a Formula V type chassis because it is light and aerodynamic.

The kids first built a wooden model of the car. They then tested wheels and solar panels before building its body. They received outside help for the more complicated parts of the build, like welding the chassis.

The learning didn’t stop with the Sonke team. Along the route, they executed solar power demonstrations using solar-powered toy cars for schools in the hope of inspiring the future generation of engineers.  This was the only school team to participate in the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge.

The High School collaboration, Team Sonke covered an admirable 656.9 kilometers with their first ever solar car, something which the two schools hope to repeat in coming years, given sponsorship.

TEAM | Tokai University Solar Car Team

CAR NAME | Tokai Challenger

COUNTRY | Japan

CLASS | Challenger

The Tokai University solar car team are veterans of the Sasol Solar Challenge, having taken part every year except 2014.

The Japanese team was the challenge’s first international entrant in 2008, winning the inaugural event. They went on to be a strong competitor, winning multiple challenges in South Africa and globally.

In 2018 they competed with the Tokai Challenger that was built for the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge – where they placed fourth.

The Tokai team abandoned the typical challenger catamaran-shape in 2018, challenging themselves to push the limits of technology. Their new mono-hull shape completed more than 3 000km, and testing showed good aerodynamics and stability.

The university collaborated with several Japanese companies, and while everything was being designed by them, the carbon fibre body was manufactured by the Toray group, and the silicon solar array came from the team’s main sponsor, Panasonic.

The 170kg Tokai Challenger was also fitted with a new motor which is so efficient that less than 5% of the solar power generated through the arrays is lost once it’s converted by the motor.

The team consisted of 60 members, of which two were veterans. General manager Professor Hideki Kimura has been apart of the team since its inception in 1991. Kohei Sagawa is a veteran driver, having driven in more than 12 solar challenges. In 2018 he shared the driving duties with three new students.

A dramatic upset on the final day resulted in the Tokai University Solar Car team placing second, completing 3,941.4 kilometres after a gruelling eight days.

TEAM | Tshwane University of Technology Solar Team

CAR NAME | Sun Chaser III

COUNTRY | South Africa

CLASS | Challenger

The Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) team competed in the Sasol Solar Challenge for the fourth time in 2018.

Their new car, Sun Chaser III, was substantially different to the 2016 car, which did a total distance of 2 200km. The team worked on the new, roughly R2 million car for more than a year, making improvements to its weight and aerodynamics.

To make it lighter, the heavy steel suspension was replaced with aluminium and carbon fibre. The two motors were replaced by a single, more powerful motor, which cut 20kg off the weight of the car. Even the electrical system was refitted with lighter wires, and a number of components were removed, shaving another 5kg off its weight.

To test the aerodynamics, TUT had built a 3:1 scale model of the car and tested it in the University of Southampton’s wind tunnel in the U.K. Based on these results, the designers reduced the openings of the wheel arches, changed the cars wing shape, and crafted the cockpit canopy in the shape of a teardrop.

Top of the range Michelin tyres which were imported from France helped reduce friction on the road.

The TUT team was proud to have done the majority of their own design and manufacturing on site, however, the solar array, electric motor and charge controllers were specially purchased. Sun Chaser III had 257 mono-crystalline solar cells that made up its solar array.

To prevent the entire array from shutting down when a single cell was in the shade of a tree, a passer-by’s hand, or its own cockpit, TUT included bypass diodes in parts of the array so that sections would operate independently.

For the first time in 2018, the chase car - which followed behind the solar car when it was on the road - sent optimal speed values to the solar car driver on an LCD screen on the steering wheel. In previous years, this was done over radio conversations!

Solar cars contribute significantly to global research and the development of energy systems and aerodynamics, and one Sun Chaser III team member’s doctorate thesis on energy management and estimation will be informed by the lessons learnt in 2018. 

In the local battle, Tshwane University of Technology's Sun Chaser 3 finished an impressive 2,397 kilometers. TUT's solar team also experienced a tough first day, with their solar panel blowing off on the road to Kroonstad and having to be significantly rebuilt. 

TEAM | Cape Peninsula University of Technology

CAR NAME | CPUT Solar Flyers

COUNTRY | South Africa

CLASS | Challenger

The CPUT Solar Flyers team, from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, expanded their horizons and were amongst some of the first-time contenders in the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge.

The team was funded by the South African Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and consisted of two mechatronics students, seven mechanical students, and a public relations and marketing student, who was one of the two females in the team.

The CPUT Solar Flyer was steered by four drivers, of which one was the only woman on the team. The car name, Solar Flyer, was inspired by its tear-drop shaped body that resembled an aircraft with a wing. The shape was designed to reduce aerodynamic drag, and the tilting photovoltaic solar panels mounted above the body were vital in harnessing solar power with changing conditions during the event. The car had four hub motors mounted in the wheels, and a dynamite pack Life 04 battery.

The car body was made from carbon fibre, moulded to aluminium space frames made from a tubing covering. A poly-fibre process was a fitting option as it is used in the manufacturing of light aircraft and provides a durable protective layer in severe operating conditions.

The team encountered stumbling blocks in their expedition to the Sasol Solar Challenge, from attaining battery suppliers, and having to change the design of the wheel carriers and suspension.

However, with great tenacity, the team was optimistic and thrilled to be part of their very first Sasol Solar Challenge. 

Newcomers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology demonstrated the spirit of never giving up, working tirelessly throughout all eight days to troubleshoot challenges with their car.  After persevering with their car until the very last, CPUT managed 19.2 kilometers.