Welcome to Darwin, the safe arrival of our Solar Car in Darwin is thanks to Nigel who carefully towed the Motor Sport trailer with ASCEND and all our camp equipment on the 4000 km trek from Geelong to Darwin. Nigel and his partner Celia took on the huge responsibility of ensuring the safe passage of Deakin University’s entry in the 2023 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Luckily though, their efforts were rewarded with the opportunity to see the amazing Australian outback along the route. Watch the first video in our BSWC series on Facebook to see the sites for yourself.
Nigel’s arrival at the Big 4 Campground at Hidden Valley in Darwin was quickly followed by the arrival of our ‘set-up team’ by plane from Melbourne. Upon touching down in Darwin, Matt experienced a delayed flight and encountered the inconvenient necessity of awakening the team at 1:30 am to secure his room key. A subset of our team, namely Tahj, Bohan, Nathan, Xander, and Angus, had already arrived earlier on the same day, thus already being acclimated to the surroundings, tired and fast asleep.
The set-up team was straight to work the following day, the team embarked on a visit to the waterfront precinct to participate in a school holiday activity. The morning was spent mingling and introducing themselves to numerous children and families and even competitors: Team Solaride, Adelaide University’s Solar Racing Team, and Solar Team Twente. The school holiday program marked our inaugural official event and provided us with our first interaction with other teams at the Darwin Waterfront.
We also managed to secure a pit at Hidden Valley Race Way when pit access opened on 7 October. Limited to only 30 pits, late-arriving teams would be relegated to a tent. ASCEND, however, was fortuitously pre-allocated a pit owing to our participation in the holiday program. Early on, the importance of active participation in the BWSC community and effective communication with officials and other teams has proven vital in smoothing our journey.
As our set-up team trickled into the pit, there was an immediate recognition of the Darwin heat, a blanket of warmth that embraced everyone tightly, paired with the occasional fluttering visitors – the bugs.
Meanwhile, the trio – Tahj, Bohan, and Nathan (our dedicated electrical engineer and technical lead) – devised their beat-the-heat strategy. Waking up at the crisp, cooler 6:30 am, they carved out a workspace away from the searing heat. The morning routine, woven with a subtle cool breeze, allowed work to flourish before the sun claimed the day. Then, as the peak heat cascaded over the site, they’d retreat to the camp, surrendering to a refreshing swim and a nourishing lunch, allowing the hottest part of the day to lazily drift by.
For Angus, connections back home became calm amidst the bustling environment. In every call, he found a rhythm that calmed the chaos of the pits, providing a mental escape and momentarily ferrying him back to familiar landscapes and comforting voices.
The pit itself, full of motion and energy, exuded a blend of organized chaos. Despite being out first time in such an environment, team synergy became our anchor. The collective moved fluidly, shifting and adjusting, relocating equipment, and discussing needs within such an environment. The initial settling-in was not without its learning curves and adaptations, but our team, bound by an unwavering spirit of cooperation, ensured a seamless flow, demonstrating that even amidst the unfamiliar, unity was our strongest ally.
In this pit of technology and teamwork, the vibe was electric, yet warmly inviting. Even in moments of intense focus, there lingered an open invitation for conversation and knowledge exchange, threads of friendship weaving through the tension of competition. And thus, within this pit, they didn’t just unpack boxes and set up equipment but also unravelled tales of collaboration, innovation, and shared passion under the Darwin sun.
Our initial settling into the pit was a learning experience. Nevertheless, the team’s strong collaborative spirit facilitated a smooth transition. Amidst the buzz of activity, excitement, and mild stress, all teams, including ours, maintained a palpable passion for the vehicles, with engaging chats and shared knowledge with fellow participants whenever possible. Managing stress with activities like swimming and communal meals in our camp, our team always returned renewed to tackle the technical challenges head-on.
While we settle in slowly with no real issues, we observed various challenges faced by other teams, such as the Hong Kong team anxiously awaiting their car still on a vessel, and a UK team enduring a 5-day wait for their vehicle from Sydney. While sympathetic towards their plight and assisting when feasible, we acknowledged our good fortune in not having to navigate such logistical challenges, being based in our home country.
We were excited to get ASCEND on the road and Gunn Point Road, approximately 40km in the Darwin region, became a practice ground before the official Stuart Highway run for the start of the BWSC. Despite initial temperature concerns due to our team’s experience in Victoria, the first testing session executed smoothly, with our data aligning with previous tests at home in Geelong.
The second round of testing presented a hurdle in the form of a minor suspension issue, which was promptly addressed and rectified within a day, allowing for additional testing at Hidden Valley the following morning. These testing misadventures, while inconvenient, were appreciated by team members like Nigel for providing pre-race troubleshooting opportunities.
With the student team arriving on the 13th of October (despite flight delays again!!), we even fostered fellowship with competitors like the Apollo team that we met on the flight. The camp experience became a crucible for team building. For instance, Josh, a recent team addition focusing on car interior development, found joy and bonding through shared living spaces with peers like Lachie and Rupert.
George, with his gears already tuned into a mechatronic mode, found an unusual yet pleasant comfort in this tropical hug. “Darwin, with its encompassing warmth, is a delightful place to immerse oneself into,” he expressed, his voice layered with both sweat and excitement. George, now pivoting into one of our key roles as a race strategist, seemed ready to weave strategies under the sun.
The team forged tighter bonds, both in and out of the pit. Sunny and Janidu took charge of lunch preparations, while Tahj explored local cuisine like crocodile stir-fry. Simultaneously, our members, like animal-friendly Nick and Sunny, found playful moments with local wild frogs and adopted healthy routines like running on the track, boosting not only physical wellness but also team solidarity.
As we navigated through the competition, the unwavering passion of other teams towards their projects was palpable and inspiring. “Discovering other teams working as diligently as we do and collaboratively problem-solving within the team has been a genuinely enjoyable experience,” echoed within our team, resonating a shared sentiment of dedication and collaborative spirit across the board.
Stay tuned to hear how the team performs at static and dynamic scrutineering and how we prepare ourselves and practice for the massive challenge ahead.