Sunny South Africa was no match for the high-speed Tokai Challenger, Japan’s entrant in this year’s South African Solar Challenge. The sleek solar-powered Tokai Challenger completed a total of 4 061 km through South Africa to cross the finish line in first place.
The Tokai Challenger is a project of the Tokai University in Japan. Its victory in what is billed as the most gruelling solar race on the international calendar follows a similar victory at the recent Australian Global Green Challenge.
“With a race distance of over 4 000 km and elevation differences of 1 700 m, the South African Solar Challenge can easily be described as the toughest solar race in the world,” says Professor Hideki Kimura, project leader and a member of Tokai University’s School of Engineering.
“As this race was such a gruelling event, I believe it was the best possible opportunity for the students to learn about technology, engineering and the environment. I am sure that these students will introduce major new environmentally-friendly technological innovations to the automotive industry in the near future,” says Kimura.
Supporting the driver and crew of the Tokai Challenger was Toyota Prius vehicles, supplied by Toyota South Africa.
“The project not only highlighted the importance of environmentally-friendly technology, but it also allowed us to showcase the Prius, which is one of the boldest steps yet towards mass-produced hybrid and other clean energy vehicles,” says Dr Johan van Zyl, the president and CEO of Toyota South Africa.
The Tokai Challenger was also equipped with Sharp compound solar cells that were developed for outer space applications. According to Sharp-world.com, the cells have a cell conversion efficiency of 30%, the highest level in the world, with an output of 1.8kW.
Japan’s team consisted of 16 people from the Tokai University Challenge Centre Light Power Project, of which the majority were students. Leading driver Kenjiro Shinozuka, who was the first person to win the Paris Dakar Rally, was also part of the team.
Race director Winstone Jordaan said that he would like to see the 2012 event attract more entrants, especially from South African universities.
“South Africa has incredible opportunities to become a leader in solar and other advanced energies, and the Solar Challenge is the perfect place to develop the skills, technologies and teamwork needed to realise our potential,” commented Jordaan.