Newcomers cross the finish line: Sonnenwagen Aachen conquers 3,022 kilometres through the Australian Outback.
They met for studying – and suddenly an idea emerged that would turn the everyday university life of around 40 scholars from RWTH Aachen on its head: the team aimed to develop a solar-powered car to participate in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, the world's toughest race for solar-powered cars. A distance of 3,022 kilometres – right across the Australian Outback. Sometimes, the students themselves can hardly believe what happened next: they set up the Sonnenwagen Aachen e. V. association, invented, constructed, designed, inspired – and repeatedly pushed the boundaries, just like the
After two years of hard work, the time had come: driven by the power from 4 m2 of solar cells, the Sonnenwagen achieved a sensational fifth place on the grid in qualifying. The futuristic-looking, lightweight construction has a top speed of 150 km/h and drives extremely efficiently at 70 to 80 km/h – using just 1.4 kilowatts, the output of a hair dryer. A spectacular week for the Aachen-based students, who were the only German team to compete in the "Challenger Class", by the way. Crossing the finish line on October 16 was a huge achievement for the novices: they were the best newcomer team in their class, which has already provided the impetus for the 2018 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
1) You travelled to Australia with a large team. What criteria did you use to select the team's drivers?
Driver selection was crucial for success. We therefore sought applications for the four driver positions from within the team. The selection was then made based on a combination of many criteria, such as physical fitness, driving experience, height and weight, competitive experience, strong nerves and so on. But it is also important to consider how calmly and fuel-efficiently someone can drive, for example. The 3,022 km race requires a great deal of stamina in all areas. As none of us in the team were experienced motorsport drivers, we naturally gave the prospective drivers time to try out the Huawei Sonnenwagen, to see what they thought of the vehicle. At the end of the process, we had four drivers for the 3,022 km race who all had different strengths for different race scenarios – such as particular stamina for long stints or an excellent technical understanding of critical sections of the route, for example. The Team Sonnenwagen Aachen drivers are Christoph Glasmacher, Enno Dülberg, Jan Mertens and Marc Locke.
2) Your project would not have been possible without teamwork. You are 40 students from a variety of disciplines who have spent two years diligently working towards your major objective – the highlight being an intense week of racing in Australia. What is special about your team and your teamwork?
Our team is really incredible. Everyone stands fully behind the project and works extremely constructively – and is happy to discuss any issues. We have shared a lot of experience, at all times and about every conceivable technical and organisational topic. I believe that this productive exchange has generated the speed of development required to initiate such a project from scratch. Of course, you also need a will of iron to launch such a project. We worked many, many night shifts in order to meet deadlines, and even more to optimise the car for the start of the race. The fact that the team has so consistently stuck with it and constructively dealt with each other, despite all the hardships and deprivations in our private and university lives, definitely says a lot about us.
3) You have achieved the impossible and realised your fabulous dream. Were there moments when you thought: we cannot go on? And how did you overcome these moments?
Yes, there were such moments, especially during the race: In particular, he morning of day three of the race was really difficult. For the second consecutive day, the weather was even worse than expected. We were woken ahead of schedule by thunder and lightning and the battery was almost flat. That morning, not everyone of us believed that we would make it through the day. We simply set off – extremely slowly – and hoped that we could somehow endure the long uphill section in the rain. Twice we told Enno, our driver, that he should prepare to pull over, but both times we managed to avoid this. I think we only achieved this thanks to unwavering optimism – it definitely was not a rational decision to continue driving. A few of us recalled the "Never Give Up" video of this year's
4) Which sections of the route did you find particularly challenging?
The long climb ahead of Alice Springs just before reaching the half-way point was extremely challenging. That was really one of those moments when many of us thought: we just cannot go on. And yet we did. It was, by and large, a really incredible experience!