We are so sorry that this blog post is coming up so late. Ever since the race was over, we continued working on miscellaneous logistical details to wrap up the trip and kiss Australia goodbye.
On Saturday October 22nd, the team woke up to a thick layer of cloud over our head about 60 kilometers north of Port Augusta. After being in the RV for two days with Chris, I was very excited to rejoin the lead car in the caravan while Chris hopped in chase.
Not wasting any time, we trailered to Port Augusta the first thing in the morning, hoping to get some sun to charge up our batteries for the day. However, while 10 kms out of town, we in lead car heard a very familiar popping sound, followed by some continuous “clung clung clung”s. Darn it, we just got another flat tire. It must be because Mike was in the car again. He is full of bad luck…or so we like to think. 🙂
The good news is that our tire was not so flat that it was getting shredded and hurting the rim; it just had a little hole and was making a constant ssssssssssound. After dropping us off at the Port Augusta control stop, Mike then took the lead car to a Bridgestone nearby to get a new tire. Sorry again Volkswagen…we really didn’t mean for this to happen again. 🙁
At the control stop, the strategy team got together and discussed the plan for today. We have decided that we’d like to have one and only one driver to complete the last three hours of driving (we usually switch every two hours) and going as far as we can given the time and weather conditions.
Maybe it’s because of the constant prayers from back in the States, or maybe it’s the burning desire from the team hoping for a perfect last day, the sky began to clear up as it approached 8am. Even though the sun was still behind the clouds, we were hopeful.
I was the driver for the day. At 7:30, I personally checked my ballast, camelbak, all the electrical connections, and I even packed myself a little snack. I was ready, ready to rayce. At 7:45, I hopped in the car, took a few deep breaths, and then anxiously stared at my watch and listened to Nicole’s final countdown on the other end of driver radio.
At 8 o’clock, we took off. While the sky was less cloudy than it used to be a couple hours ago, there were still patches of clouds everywhere. We cruised at 45 km/h for a while, and then we saw it, the first downhill of the day! It was a long stretch of downhill approximately 50 kms out of Port Augusta. I increased our cruising speed to 55 and continued driving, and oh boy, didn’t it get better starting then! The long-waited sun actually began peeking behind the clouds! As the elevation of the Stuart Highway turned flat once again, I did not even have to decelerate, and I continued cruising at 55 km/h.
30 kms out of Port Pirie and one hour left to rayce, the sky cleared up nearly completely. Accompanied by the downhill, I noticed a consistent increase in our motor bus voltage. Why not go faster? I continued flicking the cruise switch and went as fast as 75 km/h! I constantly flicked the switch accordingly as the elevation changes, but I averaged 70 km/h and rayced on the edge the entire time.
15 minutes left to rayce, Chris began yelling into the driver radio to tell me to accelerate. I was uncertain, as I was already going at 75 km/h and the battery was running flat. The warning from the BMS began and the beeping sound refused to stop. I sat up in Impulse, started to accelerate and watched the bus voltage to drop. 103, 102, 100, 98, 96, 93, 90… I then let go of the pedal and thought about decelerating. How the heck was the car still on with 90V?!
In the meanwhile, Chris followed up with his request and asked me to continue accelerating in chase. “Well, they do have all the telemetry data.” I again pushed the pedal, but this time, with much more anxiety.
10 minutes in, suddenly, there was a burning smell coming from the front of the car. I looked and sniffed around. The batteries were still beeping, the smell was getting stronger, I was going at 85 km/h, and Chris was still pushing for more acceleration.
I followed my instinct and stopped the acceleration; I then yelled into the radio, “I think you’re insane! Something is burning!” However, they didn’t seem to understand and asked me to accelerate more, with only 5 minutes left for the race, the strategy team was really trying to squeeze out any charge possible, but I hesitated as I was only a thin layer of composite away from a potential battery explosion.
I calmed myself and began to investigate. I looked around carefully and listened to every single sound. Just what the hell is burning? I then decided that it was the tires that were giving off the smell. For some reason, they didn’t smell too much like rubber at the time, so it took me almost a whole minute to locate the culprit.
Back to the dashboard display, the bus voltage was as low as 96V, from an absolute minimum of 89V. but with less than 4 minutes left till 11, I began to accelerate again. I continued pushing the car at the edge of shutting down. In the meanwhile, the beeping was getting obnoxiously loud, but I didn’t care.
At 162 kms out of Adelaide, the clock turned to 11am. We pulled to the side of the road, and that was it. We drove over 170 kms that morning in the span of 3 hours and finished the 2011 Veolia World Solar Challenge. I remained in Impulse and waited for the adrenaline in my bloodstream to set while the rest of the team rushed towards me and cheered. It was the most thrilling time of my life. Seeing all the overwhelming joy and excitement from the team, this is the reason why I have worked nonstop this past summer, these past years. I was extremely proud.