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It was a competitive race over 3021 kilometers from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Adelaide that drew some of the best mechanical engineering minds from 21 countries to cross this island continent of red earth, giant anthills, ghost gum trees and interesting fauna on solar-powered vehicles.
Among the participating 46 teams that made the crossing to the finish line in Adelaide on the 27th of October was the Philippines’ Sinag Team which was composed of La Salle (Taft) University students led by their professors.
The Panasonic World Solar Challenge was participated by 38 solar cars and 19 other energy efficient vehicles which set out on the road from Darwin to Adelaide on October 21.
Solar Challenge started in 1987
The event was introduced in 1987 to promote educational and technical excellence with emphasis on transport sustainability by Danish Adventurer Hans Thostrup. Thostrup drove the first World solar car along with Larry Perkins over a 4052 kilometer-distance from Sydney to Perth in 20 days. It was 10 days faster than that by the first petrol engine car.
The first World Solar Challenge was participated by 23 cars led by the GM Sunray car which completed the race at a speed of 67 kms/hr. Thostrup sold the event to the South Australian government in 1996 and is now managed by Events SA.
The event’s challenge was focused on energy efficiency and creating balance between sustainable speed, endurance, energy management and strategic planning. The other classes of participation were designed to showcase a new generation of vehicles of ultra-fuel efficiency and low emission technologies.
In this year’s Challenge, Netherland’s Nuon Solar Team ran away with the first prize for the fourth year in a row. Belgium’s Umicore came second and Australia’s only entrant in the elite class – Aurora placed third.
Warm welcome to Team Sinag
The Filipino contingent was given a rousing cheer by Philippine flag waving Darwin-Pinoys as they set out to cross the continent. The course took days to cover with stops at major Australian control stops in the outback – Katharine, Dunmarra, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, Cadney Homestead, Glendambo, Port Augusta until they get to the finish line at the Victoria Square in Adelaide.
The Team Sinag of the La Salle University Philippine team entered the race under the Challenge Class while the Salesian Polytechnic group representing a joint venture of Japan-Philippines entered under the class for ‘Adventure’. The third category opened for race participants was the ‘Greenfleet Class.’
The Sinag Team consisted of drivers Eric Tan, Sherwin To and Ivan Porcalla, Overall Student team leader-Robert Obiles, Team leader (mechanical) Mico Villena, Team leader (electrical) Kaiser Fernandez, Team leader (shell) Martin Sy-Quia; team members, Walter Chua, Vincent Yao and Prince Ang; Overall Technical Project Leader (faculty) Rene Fernandez, 2nd in command Jac Catalan, Emm Gonzales, Noriel Mallari and Isidro Marfori.
An array of corporate sponsors backed the team, namely: Ford (Philippines), Motolite, Ventus, De La Salle, Shell, San Miguel Corp., PAL, Sunpower, UFreight, Aurora, Cabrera Lavadia & Associates,
Cre-Asia, Gochermann Solar Technology, JWT, Merritt Partners, Stratworks and Tuason Racing School.
Accompanying the team was an entourage of sponsor-representatives headed by Ford-Philippines boss Henry Co and La Salle’s Brother Armin Luistro.
Finishing the race
While it was the high-tech big guns with multi-million dollar sponsorships that ran away with the records, the Pinoy team members were ecstatic that they got to join the race and come through to the finish with so little glitches. To their solar entry having 21% efficiency rate against the 30% of that of the super solar battery cells of the leading Dutch Nuon Team, Brother Armin Luistro commented that “It’s not all engine efficiency. Much of the going relied also on strategy.”
Discounting the sandstorm that greeted the race participants in Port Augusta, South Australia as the race geared up towards Adelaide under cloudy weather on Saturday – October 27, the Pinoy team’s brake system and alignment was the only major difficulty that it encountered earlier on during the race. The mechanical support crew were however quick to diagnose and resolve the technical problem in time for the team to catch up with the rest of the race participants.
Aussie Sports legend and retired swimmer Ian Thorpe who has recently become Australia’s spokespersons for environment issues graced the event at the finish line on the 27th. The team arrived in Adelaide still bursting with typical Pinoy high spirits. Perhaps overwhelmed by the excitement of the race, it may yet take a while to occur to them that in that one trip across three time zones, they had been blessed with the rare opportunity to drive through one of earth’s most enigmatic geological wonders in such technology-inspired fashion.
A civic reception hosted by Adelaide’s Lord Mayor Harbison was held at the Adelaide Town Hall on October 27 (Saturday) for the participants many of whom reached the finish line on that same day after a sandstorm encounter at Port Augusta.