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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Seconds separate Emirati team from victory at Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge

With the final leg of the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge complete, the inaugural event has turned out to be one of the closest-fought in solar car racing history.
The Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge finishes as The Petrolium Institute car crosses the line to take second place. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge
The Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge finishes as The Petrolium Institute car crosses the line to take second place. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge

ABU DHABI // With the final leg of the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge complete, the inaugural event has turned out to be one of the most closely-fought in solar car racing history.

After 1,200 kilometres and three days of racing, only seconds separated the competition’s top two teams – the host emirate’s Petroleum Institute and USA’s University of Michigan.

Abu Dhabi’s team went into Sunday’s third leg in pole-position with a four-minute lead over the University of Michigan, arguably the top solar car team in the US, and finished second behind them by an almost equal amount of time.

“Today was the most challenging day by far,” said Noah Kaczor, 22, who drove team Michigan’s car first over the finish line at the Shams 1 solar power station near Madinat Zayed in Al Gharbia region.

“High winds, crazy traffic, and the fact it was the longest leg in the race made it a tough day,’ said the economics senior who completed the entire 418km final course.

Although cloudy conditions provided an additional challenge for some teams, Mr Kaczor said the lack of sunlight did not hinder his team’s car as it was fully charged.

What did require his team’s attention was that Petroleum Institute gave them stiff competition.

“This, by far, was the closest race I’ve ever been involved in. If the race was any longer team PI would have surely beat us,” he said.

Mr Kaczor credited his team’s experience for the time they made up on their competitors.

“I’m very impressed with team PI’s performance throughout. We all assumed they would mess something up due to it being the first time they raced but they didn’t have a lot of errors,” he said.

Alatqa Al Hanaee, 23, who lead the PI team’s challenge, said: “Our strategy today was to play it safe and use our lead time as a buffer zone.

“We knew we had a good car and worked incredibly hard to get to this position,” said Mr Al Hanaee, who has had little sleep in the last two weeks while busy with long hours of preparation.

Mr Al Hanaee said his team had learnt a great deal from racing the top solar car teams in the world and was extremely proud of their performance.

“It gives us a good benchmark of what is required and I am looking forward to using the knowledge in our next target – the World Solar Challenge in Australia later this year.

Equally impressed with the host team’s effort was the event’s director, Dan Eberle, who came into the competition with 30 years of solar car racing experience.

“They not only built one of the best solar cars but also did really well in the strategical aspects of the race,” he said.

Mr Eberle said Abu Dhabi’s first solar challenge was one of the most competitive he has been involved in.

“It was an elite race with the best teams from around the world. Usually 10 to 15 per cent of the teams are disqualified before they can race but this was the first competition I was involved in that none of the teams were disqualified,” he said.

With more than 200 school students cheering on the arrival of the Petroleum Institute’s solar-powered car as it reached the finish line Mr Al Hanaee said he hoped those who witnessed the cars on the street would inspire discussion on solar power.

“I hope it has a ripple effect in the community and reaches the right people who can make a change,” he 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.

tsubaihi@thenational.ae