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Watson Lake repeats Solar Challenge success

By Ian StewartNews ReporterThere’s a solar car dynasty on the rise in Watson Lake.For the second year in a row, the Solar Flair dominated…

By Ian Stewart

News Reporter

There’s a solar car dynasty on the rise in Watson Lake.

For the second year in a row, the Solar Flair dominated the Yukon Solar Challenge, and the Watson Lake team will once again head to the Canadian Skills Competition to defend its title.

This year’s nationals in Halifax will mark the first official solar car competition, and entries are expected from Ontario, BC, Manitoba and PEI.

Last year’s competition was a demonstration event which the Yukon won over Ontario.

“It would be nice to see it become really big, because it’s a great competition,” said Toby Reams, who participated in last years race, and is now coaching Joy Reams and Jessica Thomas in the Solar Flair.

The Yukon Solar Challenge, now in it’s fourth year, took over Nisutlin Drive in Riverdale on Saturday, with six teams pushing their home made cars to the limit in both speed and endurance events.

Competing for the chance to race in Halifax were Watson Lake, three teams from the Whitehorse Skills Centre, one team from Carcross and one from Porter Creek Secondary.

They have all spent the last few months getting ready for the challenge. Some, like Watson Lake, are sticking with what works.

“It’s nice not having to build again this year, because these things take a huge amount of time,” said Reams. “We were able to get out and do a bunch of driver training, so that was really nice to have that luxury.” 

Other teams started from scratch after disappointing results last year.

“Our new car’s a lot closer to the ground, and we’re trying to save as much weight as we can,” said Brendan Zrum, a third-year racer from the Whitehorse Skills Centre. “We went with crazy carpets for the skin,” he added, saying that last year’s car, covered with aluminum, was too heavy.

Under Saturday’s grey morning skies, the cars relied on battery power to work up to their top speed, and RCMP auxiliary officers were on hand with radar to verify the fastest team.

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Solar Flair had the fastest run along Nisutlin, posting a top speed of 63 kilometres per hour and a track average of 34.7 kilometres per hour.

“We had a GPS on board, and it gave us a top speed of 76,” said Reams. “There’s a bit of an uphill where the radar was. So that slowed us down.”

The next fastest team was Aluminator, from Carcross School, which clocked in at 54 kilometres per hour, and averaged 33.7 kilometres per hour.

After a battery-charging break, the endurance test began. And although the sun emerged from the clouds, the teams knew it wouldn’t make much difference to the outcome of the race.

“I hate to say this, but it’s minimal,” said Reams, of the actual effect of the solar panels for these cars. “If you were getting maximum efficiency and power out of them, and you had 90-degree solar radiation, you would get about 4.4 amps, which is about one tenth of the juice used.”

Reams said the race is more about conserving power, and knowing how much to draw from the batteries.

Most cars have an on board battery manager, and drivers can adjust their speed to use their power efficiently.

“It’s all about getting you car geared properly, and we try not to use brakes, that’s just converting electrical energy into heat energy, it’s wasted,” said Reams.

The Watson Lake team managed to complete 46 laps before they ran out of power, followed by the Whitehorse Skills Centre with 38 laps.

The Solar Flair stands out from the rest of the entrants not only because of its impressive performance, but also because of its unconventional rounded nose; all the other cars utilized a wedge shape.

To hear Reams talk about the car, with its aircraft cro-moly frame, eight-speed gear hub and rack and pinion steering, one could mistake him for an automotive engineer.

“We’ve gone from the junkyard dragons to high-tech stuff… when these cars break down they pull out their laptops,” said Skills Canada Yukon’s president Duncan Miller, who started the race four years ago.

The idea for the Solar Challenge, like all Skills Canada programs, is to get youth interested in studying trades.

“The oldest skills’ club team is in it’s third year now, so the coaches are pretty much standing back, watching the kids do all the work, and that’s the most satisfying thing,” said Miller.

As well as the speed and endurance tests, points were awarded for excellence in construction and technical innovation (Carcross had the top score in both), and logbook and judge interviews (Red Road Relay from Whitehorse Skills Centre had the top score).

Final Overall Results (maximum score 1000):

1st Solar Flair, Watson Lake, 950

2nd Aluminator, Carcross School, 816

3rd Back in Black, Whitehorse Skills Centre, 788

4th Red Road Ray, Whitehorse Skills Centre, 735

5th El Diablo de Sol, Whitehorse Skills Centre, 664

6th Solaris Dominatus, Porter Creek Secondary, 558