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Winning a race in the sun.

Winning a race in the sun

Belying its squashed-bug profile, the solar-powered vehicle Sunraycer, designed and built by Detroit-based GM Hughes Electronics, sped to victory in a 1,950-mile race across the middle of Australia. Dubbed the "Flying Cockroach' by Australian journalists, the car covered the distance in 44 hours and 54 minutes, traveling at an average speed of 41 miles per hour. Including overnight stopovers, the entire trip from Darwin to Adelaide along a desolate two-lane highway took five and a half days.

Sunraycer finished more than two days in front of its nearest competitor, an entry from the Ford Motor Co. of Australia. A Swiss car, Spirit of Biel, came in third. Billed as the world's first international transcontinental road race for solar-powered vehicles, the competition attracted 25 entries from seven countries. Even two weeks after the race's start on Nov. 1, a few of the vehicles were still on the road gamely trying to reach Adelaide.

Sunraycer's success depended on several new technologies (SN: 10/3/87, p.219). Its specially designed, streamlined body had an extremely low air resistance, or drag coefficient, allowing the car to slip smoothly through troublesome crosswinds. The vehicle carried an array of particularly efficient solar cells similar to those used to power communications satellites and a superior, lightweight electric motor that weighed only 8.1 pounds but could deliver 2 horsepower. A battery of rechargeable silver-zinc cells provided additional power for accelerating and climbing hills.

"We had no mechanical or electronic failures of any kind,' says Bruce McCristal of GM Hughes Electronics. "Our only trouble was three flat tires.' While some observers estimate that GM spent several million dollars on Sunraycer, the company, saying that the project was part of its general research and development effort, has declined to name a figure. "We learned a lot about low-speed aerodynamics, lightweight structures and materials, and other factors,' says McCristal. "This could have practical application in all-electric vehicles somewhere down the road.'
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Copyright 1987, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sunraycer wins race for solar-powered vehicles
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 28, 1987
Words:329
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