Final results for the Challenger, Cruiser, and Adventure classes have been posted. See also this fantastic data visualization from the previous lead of the Blue Sky team. ScientificGems has also made several wrap-up posts that I'd encourage you to go read.
If you missed it, a recording of the awards ceremony is still available here.
Challenger ClassAn amazing 20 teams finished in the Challenger class this year, double the number that has finished the challenge for the last decade or so. The field was much higher quality than I've seen in years, and it makes me very hopeful about the future of the sport!
Using Nuon's finishing time in 2013 as a baseline and normalizing all 2015 finishing times to it (attempting to control for regs changes and weather differences), it's clear that almost every team this year improved relative to Nuon. The big winners in the improvement category were the teams that did more poorly in 2013 - Michigan was 26% better than in 2013, and Punch was 15% better. Twente improved 12%, Arrow, Blue Sky, and Stanford all improved 9%, and Tokai improved 7% relative to Nuon.
It's harder to compute a % improvement for teams that didn't finish the race last time. That said, EAFIT and WSU both failed to complete the event in 2013, and finished in the top 10 this year! I'd probably nominate the two of them as the "most improved" teams of WSC 2015. It's also worth mentioning JU, who went from finishing less than half of the route two years ago as a rookie, to finishing the entire course in 15th this time around. KIT and Kookmin were the other two teams that didn't finish the course in 2013 but completed the challenge this year, so congrats to those teams as well.
Overall, it was a really tight race up in the top 5 - Nuon, Twente, Tokai, Michigan, and Punch stuck very closely together for the first three days or so. But there was no way they were all equally matched; we speculated a lot in our van about which teams were outrunning their battery and which teams were biding their time and pacing the main group. Sure enough, first Punch started dropping back, then Tokai, then Michigan... but it looks like Nuon and Twente really were that closely matched, finishing 8 minutes and 20 seconds apart on the official timing. Amazing!
Punch finished in 5th place. I'd left them out of my top picks for a reason - sure, they build very pretty cars, but cars don't win races - teams win races. The Umicore/Punch team never quite seems to have the level of design robustness and operational perfection necessary to win, and that still held true this year. They still ended up in the top five because Stanford, although superior operationally (they effectively ran a perfect race), simply did not have a car with enough raw performance.
Punch stopped repeatedly on the first day - each time due to issues stemming from one problem. First either the rear fairing came loose or the license plate dropped into the rear fairing (I heard both from different Punch members, and don't know which is true) so they stopped to fix that. Then they were forced to stop a second time because the right rear tire had been damaged by whatever caused them to stop the first time, and then a third stop to fix an issue with the motor. Afterward, they turned the afterburners on to catch up to the top teams - we clocked them at +110kph when we overtook them on the 2nd day before Tennant Creek. Not a smart strategy... They had several days to reel in the top teams; there was no need to catch them ASAP. Then their media car earned a 1 hour penalty for the team (which I'll talk about later), and finally they broke their rear suspension by turning too quickly into the Coober Pedy control stop. Beefier rod ends with a safety factor larger than 1.001 don't add all that many grams... You can't win if you keep making operational and design mistakes like this. Once is chance, 5+ incidents is a pattern.
|Interesting leading edge details. Also note the channel in the center of the car.|
That said, given how well their car performed in spite of all of the issues, I think they may have had the best car at the race this year. Although I wasn't super impressed by the car in photos before the race, I liked it a lot more once I got up close. There was a lot of secret sauce in the underbody aero. A massive amount of effort went into making Punch One as slippery and efficient as possible, and I was shocked at how close Punch ended up to the top four (and how big the gap back to Stanford was) even after all of their issues, penalties, and questionable strategy.
Michigan finished in 4th this year. They lead the race through the first day (it probably helped that they were monsters on the track and qualified well ahead of the rest of the top teams), but slipped back slowly and steadily over the course of the race. In particular, they fell back significantly in the afternoon of the third day after Alice Springs; I heard they had a persistent fender rub issue in the afternoon that they weren't able to properly diagnose until that evening, which cost them a lot of energy and time. But the slip back to 4th was purely a strategy failure. Michigan had been widening the gap back to Tokai over the 4th day, ending 30-40km ahead. Further north on the highway, Tokai was under full sun in the evening charge and following morning charge, while Michigan was fully overcast both days. Tokai's extra energy allowed them to drive much faster on the 5th day, sneaking ahead of Michigan and finishing 4 minutes and 2 seconds earlier. WHOOPS. So much for Michigan's much vaunted weather modeling. Weather modeling doesn't matter if you don't have it linked into your strategy...
|Michigan driving towards Tennant Creek on the morning of October 19th.|
I'm not convinced Michigan really got anything at all out of their concentrators. They weren't carefully pointing them (unlike Nuon in 2013, who appeared to obsess over their Semprius modules), and I'm pretty sure they need to be carefully aimed for the lenses to focus on the cells. The modules were also usually half-shaded by the shell (gotta keep them inside the bounding box), and were often directly under the water sheeting off the array. At least one of the three was full of condensation by the end of the race. They were probably just dead weight, sadly.
|Michigan in Alice Springs: Makeshift rain gutters, and strings for the water to|
run down without splashing the concentrators. These were invented sometime
after Tennant Creek.
Tokai placed a respectable 3rd place; they closed the time gap to Nuon significantly relative to 2013. I honestly didn't hear too much about about them, other than several incidents of unsafe overtaking of the Michigan team. I have the most horrifying photo (taken from the Punch lead car, which I do not have permission to publish) of the Tokai Challenger failing at overtaking and about to get smeared off the Stuart Highway by an oncoming Jeep Cherokee - except for the grace of the Michigan chase driver, who had both the presence of mind and the bravery to dive onto the shoulder at +90kph to give Tokai somewhere to go. Yeeesh. They got a few slap-on-the-wrist penalties for stuff like this, but given how close Michigan ended up behind them, I'll bet Michigan wishes Tokai had gotten one more penalty...
(EDIT 30 October: The photo I describe above was published by Michigan in a blog post)
|Tokai charging in the evening of October 19th, before Alice Springs.|
The mirrors were neat, but I'm not sure how much they helped (if at all). Looked cool, though...
Twente finished in 2nd, and they put on a spectacular show. The car was beautiful, and I loved their two-stage tilt-the-chassis-and-then-the-car array normalizing strategy. The chassis effectively gets narrower so the array can overhang the edge slightly, AND the pivot point moves lower, allowing the array to tilt higher! Brilliant! The team ran a near flawless race, and kept the race nail-bitingly-close until the very end. Unfortunately, the car and team weren't quiiiiite good enough for the overall win.
|Twente charging in the morning of October 20th, before Alice Springs|
There was some drama near the end of the race, with some Twente members accusing Nuon of certain things over social media. They got a lot of people up in arms on the internet spreading rumors and half-truths, but ultimately, WSC did not penalize Nuon. Honestly, I don't really see the point of whining publicly like that - file an official complaint or simply keep your griping to yourself if you don't think it merits an official inquiry. And filing official complaints while publicly complaining does not endear to you to the WSC officials...
Nuon had a bunch of complaints about Twente's conduct as well, but were wise enough to express them in private, rather than blasting them to the internet at large in 140 characters at a time. I won't speak of them here, but let's just say Nuon believed they had valid complaints that would be backed up by observer's notes, and were fully prepared to start a protest war if Twente wanted one. But ultimately, I think it was only a few Twente members who were complaining; the two teams were happily partying together the night after the finish (while folks on the internet were still gnashing their teeth about who did what and when).
Nuon was the 1st place finisher in the Challenger class this year. They ran a perfect race in a slick, clean car completely devoid of any secret weapons. They simply had a superbly aerodynamic and lightweight (150kg) car with a powerful solar array, and the race strategy and team to match it. Bravo to Nuna8 and the Nuon team for taking home their 6th overall win at WSC.
|Nuon charging hard into Alice Springs on the morning of October 20th|
A few other noteworthy Challenger cars and contests:
Stanford had a very clean car, and by all accounts ran a nearly perfect race. If you look at the graph on ScientificGems, you'll note the slope of their line is nearly flat, with no sharp kinks - indicating a very constant average speed over the entire race; one of the signs of very good strategy and a very reliable car. They eliminated more than half the time between themselves and Nuon relative to 2013 - but almost all of the other teams had improved more than Stanford did since 2013, so they slipped from 4th in 2013 to 6th place this year.
The Hungarian team's car MegaLux was a carbon fiber masterpiece, and the team did extremely well for a first time team, placing 7th. I'm very excited to see what they come up with for 2017.
There was a fairly tight race for 8th place between Team Arrow, EAFIT, and Western Sydney. Ultimately Arrow prevailed, while EAFIT and WSU finished in 9th and 10th, respectively. Like I said above, the latter two teams are probably the most improved from two years ago, so congrats for rounding out the top 10!
The race for 11th between NWU, Blue Sky, and UKZN ended in that order, with only 31 minutes spanning 11th to 13th - and NWU was only about a half hour behind WSU as well! The race for 14th was even closer - Goko prevailed over JU and Nagoya, but Nagoya in 16th was only 20 minutes behind Goko.
Principia, KIT, Anadolu, and Kookmin all managed to get through the end of timing on the last day, rounding out our finishers to a full 20 teams. Principia should be particularly proud, given the nasty electrical issues they had on the first day of the race.
There's not too much of note among the few teams that trailered - I haven't heard too much about any of them; all of them were pretty silent of social media and team blogs after the end of scrutineering. The only major news from these teams was the Malaysian's horrifying battery fire outside of Darwin. Major kudos to all of the teams in Alice Springs who got them repaired and back on the road, by the way. They managed to drive another some distance after the battery fire, including across the finish line!
I'm not sure what the difference is between RVCE's "Did Not Start", Siam Tech's "Withdrawn", and Durham's "Trailered for all 3022km but curiously faster elapsed time than the 20th place finisher". Very puzzling.
Cruiser ClassEindhoven took the Cruiser Class win this year. I was really blown away by this car - it drove FASTER than their previous car (Average of 76.7 kph in 2015 vs 75.1 kph in 2013) on less than 65% of the total energy, (due to two of the grid charge locations being eliminated this year). Stella's performance in 2013 implied a CdA around 0.38 sqm, and the performance of Stella Lux this year implies a CdA of 0.23 sqm - spectacular for a car that looks like that, and over 30% better than what I'd estimated it would be. Clearly, I need to go back to school. The team also scored the highest in practicality (84.5%).
|Eindhoven's driver waves to us on the morning of October 18th|
I heard from a team member afterward that some of them were really freaked about about my post before the race, predicting a 4th place finish for them. Don't let bullshit on the internet get to you, folks! Haters gonna hate.
Kogakuin placed 2nd in the Cruiser class. Their sleek car was the fastest Cruiser car in the challenge, averaging 79.8 kph over the event. However, I think they could have gone even faster - they pulled into Alice Springs with 30-40% left in the battery pack. That energy that was effectively wasted when they plugged the car into the grid there, because WSC doesn't meter energy during grid charge and just assesses points as if the battery was charged from dead empty to full. Not great strategy on Kogakuin's part... I think they also arrived in Adelaide with a large amount left in the battery, although they were artificially restricted a bit over that leg: WSC limited them to 70kph for three hours on day 4 due to instability in crosswinds. That certainly didn't help them, considering they averaged 88kph from Barrow Creek into Alice Springs...
|Passing Kogakuin after the Katherine control stop of October 18th|
Ultimately, they did not go fast enough to make up for their low practicality score (51.75%) and they finished in 2nd place. They would have needed to complete the course 2.07 hours faster to edge out Eindhoven - an average of 4.6 kph faster than they actually drove.
Given how much energy they had left in the pack at Alice Springs, it's interesting to wonder if they could have won by doing a pure-solar run. They arrived in Alice Springs quite early, and it's unclear in the rules if they could have sat at the control stop all day, charging off the sun - or if they had to pack it in and either impound the battery or wall-charge after the 30 minute control stop ended. If they had done a pure solar run, Kogakuin could have been as much as 2.16 hours slower than they were (or 3.67 hours slower with two people in the car) and still ended up the victors.
Bochum's car was simply great. Interior, headlights, doors, styling, the works. Even though they finished 3rd overall, I want it in my driveway. How much $$$? Needs a new array, though...
Sunswift's eVe struggled to the finish, but they did finish - and ditto for Minnesota, who snuck in with a bare 3 minutes to go before the end of timing. Never give up, never surrender!
Cruiser class judging was interesting to watch. For starters, teams had to pack a bunch of luggage inside their car, and appeared to be timed on how quickly they could load the car up. Some teams passed with flying colors - the Eindhoven team actually wished there had been more to pack in. On the other hand, some teams had made no provisions for luggage - Minnesota, for example, had to pile up the luggage in the passenger seat, and I assume Kogakuin and Tehran scored poorly here as well.
|Luggage, groceries, and small items|
|Details of the small items.|
|Very cramped passenger compartment in Kogakuin's car|
Teams also had to complete a hill start, without rolling backwards and breaking an egg placed under the rear wheel. I think Minnesota was the only team I saw that failed this - partly because they had just barely finished the race only a few hours previously and had a completely drained battery, and partly because I think one of their two motors was non-operational. I suppose part of practicality is still being able to perform after a long roadtrip, but it felt a little like a "hit 'em while they're down" situation.
After the hill start was the parallel park. Some teams were quite good at this, but others had a lot of trouble. It seems like it was more of a problem with the drivers than the cars; most were able to complete it smoothly in the end, but some took several tries at it.
Finally, the teams had to give sales pitch to some Tesla engineers who were on-site. Both Eindhoven and Bochum came prepared with presentations, posterboards, and pamphlets. It looked fun, but it seemed like this part could be very biased towards teams that were fluent in English...
|The interior of Eindhoven's Stella Lux|
|A Tesla engineer sits in the Iranian's car.|
There was a fifth item on the judges sheets, but I didn't get a close enough look, and I didn't see an obvious fifth station. Coolness? Judge's choice? Unfortunately, I have no clues as to how the various aspect of Practicality judging were weighted.
As I described here in point #2, I think WSC made a critical error in the finishing order for the Cruiser cars that trailered - if that order is correct, there's a gaping loophole in the Cruiser scoring rules waiting to be exploited.
Adventure ClassA round of applause for all of the Adventure Class teams for participating this year - ESPECIALLY for the Houston team, who completed over 80% of the route on solar power. I'm really mystified by the official results, which place them in 3rd (last) place. As the team points out, reg 4.1.3 states that teams which trailer will be ranked in order by km driven on solar power - which is exactly how the Challenger cars are ordered. Ordering teams who trailered by elapsed time is very silly - what does that elapsed time mean when the car has been on a trailer, anyway? The point of reg 4.1.3 is so that trailer-racing isn't a valid strategy if you know you're going to have to trailer, and ignoring it sets a bad precedent on several levels.
I know that the Adventure Class isn't a "prestige" class, but the teams HAVE made a huge effort to travel around the world to WSC, so the least the officials could do would be to take them seriously and rank them properly. Giving TAFE SA an "achievement award" and the two USA high school "participation awards" at the awards ceremony rather than announcing finishing order seemed a little condescending...
(EDIT 30 October: The Houston team posted a clarifying statement, in which WSC explained to them that to be considered the "winning" team, a team must complete all of the distance on solar power)
Team Perception of WSC
Just kidding. Kinda.
It's a well known fact that WSC scrutineering is capricious and arbitrary. Like all well known facts, this isn't exactly true. WSC seemed to treat most teams equally at scrutineering; they were mostly consistent about what was inspected... and about what wasn't. There were several rules that appeared to be flat-out ignored. Nuon's "roll hoop", for example, was a joke. The driver's head will be the first thing to hit the ground if Nuna8 rolls over, full stop. No ifs, ands, or buts - the top of the driver's helmet was clearly above the line the hoop makes with the structural front of the car. WSC's roll structure rules are already a joke and all the top teams know that those rules can basically be ignored (and they'll be more competitive if they do).
The battery inspection is also kind of a joke. They were very rigorous about putting anti-tamper markers inside the battery boxes, but I don't think they ever turned on the packs to check out the functionality of the BMS systems - one expects they could have caught the problem with Malaysia's pack if the battery had truly been inspected, and WSC could have avoided a very dangerous and very public battery fire.
There were a few inconsistencies, however. For example, I while I saw them measure the height of everyone's array stand setup, I only saw them sporadically measure the width, which is just as important - it's the combination of width and height restrictions that made the array normalization such a difficult problem. Why measure some teams, but not all? There were many teams that pretty clearly violated the maximum width that I did not see being inspected.
Not to single anyone out, but here's a photo of EAFIT's array stand setup. Their car had 13 Sunpower cells across the width of the car, which are each 125mm wide. Assuming zero gaps between cells and no space on either side of the car, that's 1.625m of width - leaving only 175mm left available in the 1.8m wide bounding box. I'm pretty sure the edge of the array is waaaay more than 175mm out from the edge of the chassis in this photo, but the width of the car while normalizing was not measured.
Michigan was one of the few teams that was measured for width while normalizing and were given a bit of a hard time at scrutineering, but I saw them repeatedly violate the width with their concentrators while on the race and no one seemed to care, so I guess it all worked out equally for everyone in the end.
Penalties also did not inspire confidence among the teams. They're not even announced publicly - folks have to determine if teams have been penalized via rumors and hearsay. I can understand that the reason for the penalty might be kept private between the officials and the team in question (IIRC ASC does not announce the reason either), but the existence of the penalty should not have to be the subject of rumor. This caused a lot of angst on the race for some teams, and especially for the folks trying to follow along back home.
WSC penalties are a little arbitrary in nature. The Challenger class isn't an elapsed time race; the first team across the line wins. So penalties are assessed by holding a team at a control stop for some time (and there is no good method for rescinding penalties that have already been served). A 10 minute penalty (for example) doesn't really cost a team 10 minutes of race time - they're sitting charging for 10 extra minutes, which enables them to drive (marginally) faster afterwards, making up a little bit of time. The severity of the penalty is greatly impacted by the weather at the charging location as well - which didn't work in Punch's favor. It was sunny in Alice Springs when they managed to somehow get out of serving their 1 hour penalty, but partly cloudy in Kulgera when they were forced to take it.
On that topic, many teams were very confused about Punch's gigantic penalty, compared to Tokai's slap-on-the-wrist penalty for dangerous overtaking maneuvers (which were caught on camera! It's not like there's a lack of evidence). I've heard that at least one of Punch's vehicles was caught massively speeding on the service roads into Hidden Valley (in front of Chris Selwood and Safety Pete!), and the team was threatened with expulsion from the event and were very clearly put "on notice" that further shenanigans from them would not be tolerated. But the whole team must not have gotten the message, because a media car of theirs apparently nearly ran a member of the public off the road during the race... It definitely explains the harsh penalty for Punch, but that doesn't explain how Tokai got off so lightly.
All that said, it is what it is, and WSC has successfully been running their race in this fashion for years. But it'll be interesting to see how the format evolves in this era of ever increasing scrutiny from those of us in the peanut gallery on the internet.
IncidentsDespite my fears about the asymmetric car's stability, this year was surprisingly incident free. Prior to the race, both Stanford and Michigan each had an unexpected offroad adventure while testing in SA, but both teams came away relatively unscathed - nothing like Nuna4's testing accident in 2007. As far as I know, there weren't any stability-induced road departures during the race itself. EAFIT did get caught in a willy-willy, and I'm told they did a full 540 degree spin and ended up waaay off the road. Amazingly, there was minimal damage to the car, and they were able to keep on driving. There's dashcam footage; I've seen still captures from it. Release the video, please!
The Malaysians had their first day battery fire, and Nagoya's array separated and went airborne on the first day as well. WSU and Punch both had relatively minor suspension failures that were quickly repaired and didn't slow them down too much.
That's all I've heard! A very clean race overall.
Meta-bloggingI had some grand plans about how I wanted to do race coverage, which fell apart basically as soon as I got into the outback - I had never been to WSC before and some of my plans were very naive, in retrospect. The lack of cell connectivity makes it very difficult to make updates, or even figure out what's going on during the race - I think the folks back home had a better idea of where most of the cars than I did. So here are some thoughts:
Any successful WSC coverage effort really needs at least one or two people "back home" for the duration of the challenge (or hanging out somewhere with internet, like Adelaide) to collect stories, links, and archive WSC timing data as it comes in for future number crunching (I really, really, really wish WSC would publish times at every control stop).
It would be great to have a dedicated photographer and a dedicated blogger working together, with a dedicated driver or two to ferry them along the route. Spending all day alternating between taking photos and driving, and then all night uploading them and writing about them by myself was exhausting.
Finally, multiple road crews might be good idea for serious coverage - there's simply too much going on for any one car to cover. We chose to follow the top teams this year and beat them to the finish line. While it was fun due to how close the race was, we basically didn't see any cars at all on the 4th day of the race - we saw Arrow and WSU once each over 14 hours while catching up from our overnight stop in Alice Springs. There's no way for a single group of people to catch all the action. I was planning to head back north after the top teams finished to catch some of the slower teams on the way in, but we were all completely exhausted once we got to Adelaide, so that plan was abandoned. If I were to do it again in a single car, I'd probably hang near the back to begin with, and work up to the middle of the pack by the end - only 05:20:00 separated 8th from 16th, so there was plenty of action mid-pack.
In the end, WSC was an amazing experience, and I really hope to see all of you again in 2017!