Solar cars power up for Australian outback race

Sat Oct 24, 2009 1:04pm EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - With a fleet of vehicles resembling huge insects, spaceships and solar panels, motoring enthusiasts and manufacturers from around the world have gathered in northern Australia for a car race with a difference.

Known as the Global Green Challenge, solar-powered and fuel-efficient cars will set off Saturday to race 3,000 km (1,864 miles) through Australia's tropical rainforests, desert and coastal plains, all in the name of the environment.

A fleet of about 38 solar powered cars from 17 countries, designed mainly by engineering students, will take about a week to race from Darwin to Adelaide in the event that has been staged every two years since 1987.

For the first time there is also a second category, the Eco Challenge, in which 17 cars from 10 manufacturers will compete in eco-friendly vehicles now on sale, or soon to be on sale, to prove which is the most fuel-efficient.

"We believe the solar cars have pioneered a whole range of technological advancements but they are not practical road cars," event spokesman Mike Drewer told Reuters.

"But now, with the world looking for practical solutions, there are alternative vehicles being made by major manufacturers that are more fuel-efficient and have less emissions than the so-called norm. This event really is to promote the fact that a lot of this new technology is starting to become available."

The Eco Challenge consists of 17 entries, including the first production fully-electric sports car the Tesla, and vehicles made by Ford, Kia, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Skoda, Suzuki, Holden, and HSV. Cars can only travel in prescribed time periods.

But Drewer expected most attention to remain on the World Solar Challenge with its fleet of unique and quirky vehicles that highlight research and development progress.   Continued...

<p>Pierre-Luc Gelineau (L) cheers his brother Mathieu, who is driving the Esteban solar car manufactured by the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal of Canada, during the time trial held at the Hidden Valley race track in Darwin as part of the 2009 Global Green Challenge October 24, 2009. REUTERS/Regi Varghese</p>