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  • [WIND HOWLING]

  • [ALL CLAMORING]

  • The World Solar Challenge is like the Formula 1 of solar cars.

  • But there's so much more to this race than just a car.

  • It's pushing to the limit, completely to the edge of engineering.

  • MAN: So that's the locked position?

  • It's a locked position.

  • YANTE VAN HAM: Everything can happen.

  • Whoa!

  • Oh, my God.

  • Throttle and cruise not responding.

  • WOMAN: Move away from the path!

  • This is a tough race.

  • It is the premier, most difficult

  • and original solar race in the world.

  • Goes all the way back to 1987,

  • and it's only getting harder.

  • Forty-four teams from 21 countries

  • are in the far north city of Darwin, Australia.

  • They've brought one-of-a-kind solar powered vehicles

  • that have taken them years to design and build.

  • [MAN SPEAKING JAPANESE]

  • The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is every two years,

  • and we refresh our team for every challenge

  • to design and build the car.

  • It's insane, the amount of work that you put into this.

  • [TOOL WHIRRING]

  • You've got people that have worked

  • 70-hour weeks, maybe 80-hour weeks

  • to live up to this moment to start the race.

  • MULLER: In a hi-tech convergence of man and machine,

  • they will attempt a 2,000-mile endurance race

  • due south, straight through the middle of the Outback.

  • With future generations in mind,

  • they're pressing the boundaries of science.

  • But today, they all have one dream,

  • to be crowned the champion of the World Solar Challenge.

  • We're at the Hidden Valley circuit together with all the teams.

  • We were just passing by a team or another team,

  • I started to feel a little bit nervous because

  • a lot of them are good competitors.

  • CHRIS SELWOOD: This event is nothing if it's not about the passion,

  • the passion of these young people,

  • not only dreaming of finding cleaner, greener ways of doing things,

  • but putting those dreams into reality.

  • The piston rod of the engine.

  • MULLER: Energy is so important to human civilization.

  • When we learned to harness the power of fossil fuels,

  • it led to the prosperity that the world enjoys today.

  • But now, as a by-product,

  • we're releasing some 43 billion tons of carbon into the air every year.

  • With a devastating impact on Earth's climate.

  • The innovations being tested in these cars

  • show us new possibilities

  • in solar cells, batteries, aerodynamics,

  • and electronics.

  • These technologies might be a path

  • to getting the majority of our energy needs cleanly, just from the sun.

  • WILLEM-JAN CLAES: So, for us, pushing the boundaries of technology

  • is very important.

  • Apart from that, we also care about the environment

  • and we want to push the technology

  • so we can take care of our planet.

  • MULLER: Representing mostly universities from all over the world,

  • these teams have designed and built vehicles

  • powered only by the sun.

  • They will never be plugged in.

  • Ready, one, two, three.

  • [GRUNTING] You're heavy.

  • BRAD NADALINI: Obviously, the stress does get to you,

  • but you kind of feel blessed to be here

  • because, you know, you really get to tie in the theoretical learnings

  • of your university course and studies and research and all that sort of stuff

  • into a practical sense.

  • MAN 1: All right, let's go. MAN 2: Let's go, put it on.

  • MULLER: A solar car is basically a solar panel on wheels

  • with a battery to store energy and a motor to drive it forward.

  • The lighter and more aerodynamic it is,

  • the farther and faster it goes.

  • For these vehicles, efficiency is everything.

  • So we build a fast and efficient solar car.

  • [VAN ELBURG SPEAKING]

  • There's nothing like a competition to really get people, you know,

  • struggling, pulling all-nighters for years and years

  • innovating, trying to beat each other.

  • VAN ELBURG: You develop technologies that are not yet on the market.

  • So, we are engineering on a higher level.

  • MULLER: This event happens every two years.

  • As technology improves,

  • the event limits the size of the car's solar panels and batteries.

  • They've also required upright seating.

  • That is why cars decades ago looked like this,

  • and why today's cars look more like this.

  • There's over 40 entries here,

  • and no two solar cars are exactly alike.

  • And now, after years of work,

  • it's showtime.

  • They have only a few days to get their cars ready,

  • practice and pass criteria inspections.

  • [ALL CHEERING]

  • [ALL CHEERING]

  • MULLER: Over the last 20 years,

  • one team has been absolutely dominant.

  • That is Team Vattenfall from the Netherlands.

  • We have competed in nine races and won seven of them.

  • The two times we didn't became first we became second.

  • That is quite funny, right?

  • 'Cause a lot of teams are not talking about becoming first,

  • or winning the challenge. They're all talking about

  • "Beat the Dutch" I think. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

  • This year, we have used a new innovation in the aerodynamic field.

  • [BELLINGA SPEAKING]

  • MULLER: Shark skin is a film-wrapped coating with riblets,

  • tiny grooves along the flow

  • that let air pass over it with less turbulence.

  • It can reduce drag by up to 8%.

  • [BELLINGA SPEAKING]

  • MULLER: It's amazing how many different designs there are.

  • From the past, thinking about solar races,

  • I've always imagined the cars to look the same,

  • this big, flat design.

  • But there's a lot of very different designs going on here.

  • I wanna check out some more.

  • Among the top teams, there are two schools of thought in terms of design.

  • The catamaran, which is wide, compact and possibly more stable.

  • And the bullet design,

  • a long mono-hull shape, which is a newer concept

  • thought to create less wind drag.

  • The catamaran is the old style, it's tried and true,

  • and the bullet are more of the trying to make the best use of the regulations

  • to get a really fast car.

  • We still don't really know which one is better,

  • and probably this event will show which one is better.

  • MULLER: When it comes to teamwork,

  • the University of Tokai in Japan is extremely well-disciplined.

  • And they're the pioneers of the bullet-hull design.

  • BIKKANNAVAR: In the last event, Tokai sort of unveiled

  • the mono-hull or bullet design.

  • And I think it caught a lot of teams by surprise.

  • What you see this year is, you know, ten or more of the top teams

  • have switched to that design.

  • So, I think that's validation that

  • "Oh, wow, that was a great idea and we should've all thought about it."

  • MULLER: Tokai has a car that I can't believe is a one-of-a-kind build.

  • The craftsmanship looks like something that just rolled off

  • the production line of a major manufacturer.

  • It's kind of awe-inspiring.

  • Look at this car!

  • It's beautiful!

  • (CHUCKLES)

  • MULLER: Where's the motor?

  • [KOUHEI SAGAWA SPEAKING]

  • That's the motor right there?

  • [SAGAWA SPEAKING]

  • 140 kilometers per hour?

  • But you can't even... You're not allowed to go that fast, right?

  • Yeah. Yeah.

  • Are you gonna win?

  • [INDISTINCT CHATTERING]

  • [SAGAWA SPEAKING]

  • Looks like everyone's very busy.

  • Yeah.

  • MULLER: Is there any air flow through the cockpit?

  • SAGAWA: Yes, I will show that.

  • [MULLER CHUCKLING]

  • That's the air coming in right there?

  • SAGAWA: Coming here. Maybe you can see from here.

  • And when you're in the car,

  • do you take that hose and... Like this?

  • -[LAUGHING] -Change of position.

  • [CHUCKLES]

  • [MAN SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

  • MULLER: Because these solar cars are so finely engineered for efficiency,

  • the tiniest detail can affect their performance.

  • Even a small, flapping piece of tape

  • can increase drag by more than 5%.

  • This is why teams try so hard not to damage their cars during testing.

  • [MAN SPEAKING DUTCH OVER RADIO]

  • [RADIO BEEPS]

  • MULLER: But unfortunately for Vattenfall,

  • they've got trouble already.

  • [SPEAKING]

  • [INDISTINCT CONVERSATION]

  • So, the aerodynamics are really important.

  • So one scratch on the aerodynamics, it's disastrous.

  • BELLINGA: We will investigate what's the problem what's broken,

  • and see if we can fix it in a night or a day.

  • We have to investigate everything.

  • It's gonna be hard work, because we didn't expect that

  • something like this will happen.

  • [TOOL WINDING]

  • [ELECTRONIC MUSIC PLAYING]

  • MULLER: Stanford from the US

  • is a team that is expected to be a threat this year.

  • They've got a bullet design car

  • and they're one of the youngest teams in the competition.

  • They're almost all undergrads.

  • How much of your life is this car? That's what I wanna know.

  • The better question will be how much of our life isn't this car.

  • [LAUGHS]

  • I mean, right now it's definitely 100%.

  • Why is it so important to you? Why does it mean that much?

  • I think, at least personally,

  • it's beautiful to be able to see something, you know,

  • just morph from nothing

  • into this big, beautiful thing that we've all done together.

  • And being able to do it with a group of complete strangers.

  • JULIA GORDON: This car that we built is powered by the sun.

  • The levels of ingenious and creativity

  • and just perseverance that our team put in to make this car happen.

  • Like, this is the coolest thing I've ever done.

  • And I'm one of the drivers as well.

  • MULLER: You're the drivers?

  • How did you get to be such gangster drivers?

  • -[ALL LAUGHING] -We're short,

  • our hips are small enough.

  • -We're willing to sit... -Speak for yourself.

  • -[ALL LAUGHING] -Speak for yourself.

  • We're willing to drive this oven across the Outback, so...

  • MULLER: How hot? GORDON: It's like a sauna in there.

  • You just sweat for hours and hours.

  • What is the driving strategy?

  • We got our driver strategy from watching Talladega Nights.

  • -[ALL LAUGHING] -MULLER: There you go.

  • [CROWD CHANTING]

  • [CHEERING AND CLAPPING]

  • MULLER: Team Michigan is a huge crew.

  • And they have a very hi-tech car that they're pretty secretive about.

  • This is their 11th World Solar Challenge

  • and they have never taken home the trophy.

  • But they think their time has come.

  • We know our car is the best. We are almost certain.

  • I mean, you look at the critical performance

  • characteristics of a solar car,

  • aerodynamics, solar array, and the efficiency of the internal electrical system,

  • we have the best car in the world in all three.

  • Hey, Dan, make sure the battery's covered.

  • MULLER: One thing Michigan is not short on is confidence.

  • Uh, no filming the battery, please.

  • Battery's our secret sauce.

  • Anything we don't get on camera from that is a win in our book.

  • DICKINSON: The other teams are trying to steal our information.

  • I mean, we've been chasing for the past two days, trying to get, you know,

  • "Hey, can you take a step back, like, this is... Don't put your camera there."

  • And it's a game we're playing with them as well.

  • You know, I think there is this attitude, so to speak, with Michigan.

  • They just wanna display their confidence,

  • and psych the other teams out a little bit, but we don't mind.

  • -There we go. -Happy?

  • I guess it goes to the old saying, "Fake it till you make it."

  • [CHUCKLES]