ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institution’s team in the inaugural Solar Challenge blew away all competition in the first leg of the race on Friday.
The team was sixth to take off in the staggered start, six minutes after the first solar-powered car started the round-trip run to Al Ain.
But it finished more than 20 minutes ahead of the first car.
“We were expecting to have a similar time to other teams, but what we didn’t expect was to overtake the other cars within the first hour,” said Alatqa Al Hanaee, 23, who leads the PI team of more than 40 students.
The 366-kilometre first leg of the three-race contest, covering 1,200km, took the cars from Yas Marina Circuit to UAE University in Al Ain, then the finish line at the Masdar Institute.
The race includes 15 teams from universities around the globe who design, build and drive their solar vehicles, although only 14 raced on Friday.
PI team’s first driver Asadullah Saeed, 21, said although the team had a home-ground advantage, the race was not easy.
The mechanical engineering student said he was affected by the lack of air-conditioning.
“But you power through knowing the hotter it is for you and the more drained you are, the better it is for the car, which is powering up from the Sun,” Mr Saeed said.
The solar challenge is one of the events associated with Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, which begins on Saturday.
Others include a meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency’s General Assembly, the World Future Energy Summit, the Zayed Future Energy Prize Awards and the International Water Summit.
It ends next weekend with the two-day Festival at Masdar City, an open day full of events and activities.
Dr Fahad Al Maskari, director of the PI Solar Car Project, said his team’s result reflected their hard work and dedication.
“We prepared thoroughly but it was a surprise to do so well against some of the top solar-car teams in the world,” Dr Al Maskari said.
After a great start, he said some of the team members became so excited he had to calm them down.
“I am very proud of the team,” Dr Al Maskari said. “They are self-motivated, fast learners and very passionate about what they do.
“But we have to remain focused on our ultimate goals, which are not only to win this competition but to become the top solar car team in the world.”
Economics senior Noah Kaczor, 22, who drove the ADU University of Michigan team into second place, said of the PI team: “It certainly is impressive considering this is the first race.
“PI’s car is a copy of a car that beat us in 2012, so we’re on a redemption race against them.”
Mr Kaczor, who also helps to organise his team’s finances, said his 167-centimetre frame and aggressive driving style made him a contender in the competition.
But he was not expecting to contend with such aggressive driving among the general public.
“It’s nerve-racking to drive a million-dollar car in between drivers that like to weave in and out of lanes,” said Mr Kaczor, an American. “It’s something I’m not used to.”
Despite that hazard and some crosswinds, he said the racing conditions were ideal.
“This race is going to be a flat-out sprint because the sun allows you to go top speed.”
Steve McMullen, the chief electrical inspector who was taking part in his 25th event, said that for the first leg it was surprisingly competitive.
“Any one of four teams can be leading this race,” Mr McMullen said. “What I saw yesterday in the qualifying stage was surprising. There wasn’t a lap difference between six teams.”
Jamie Cunningham, the chief of Professional Sports Group, which jointly organised the event with the International Solarcar Federation, said: “Hosting and participating in the race is a great reflection of wanting to be a leader in education and in new energy.
“The participating students will become world leaders in the engineering field and the competition will inspire a generation of students to participate in these fields.”
Updated: January 16, 2015 04:00 AM