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Sunday, 18 November, 2001, 09:52 GMT
Mad Dog goes walkies
Mad Dog, South Bank University
Mad Dog on the road
Martine Follain, who is with Britain's Mad Dog team competing in the 2001 World Solar Challenge in Australia, reports from Darwin at the start of the famous trans-Australian race.

At 5am, the whole Mad Dog team met in the kitchen, slightly bleary eyed, for a quick breakfast. By 5.45, we were all packed up and on our way to the starting line in Darwin.

We joined the other 33 cars and took our place at position 17 - a position that had been determined following our performance during yesterday's qualifying test when we reached a top speed of 84.8 kilometres per hour (52.6 miles per hour).

The line-up of cars was impressive and many people turned up to support the competitors. There was even a brass band to see us off at 8am.

Nigel Burgess was our first driver. He took Mad Dog through Darwin and out of the town.

Mad Dog, South Bank University
It's a quick changeover for the drivers
Once we were able to break free of the convoy, we had an exciting moment as we overtook our first car: the French Helios team, who had been our neighbours in the Darwin workshop.

Kind act

Just a little further down the road, a Michelin representative saw his company's sticker on the car and stopped to hand us a few spare tyres - a spontaneous gesture of sponsorship which would certainly come in useful.

We drove all day until 5pm, through a landscape of trees, red earth and bizarre-shaped termite mounds, only stopping for the compulsory media stop of 30 minutes and the quick driver changes.

All four drivers took a turn at the wheel and we covered 515 km (320 miles), at an average speed of 62.4 km/h (38.7 mph).

We set up camp on the side of the road, in the company of a Japanese car, and, once Mad Dog's daily maintenance was completed, we prepared for another Aussie barbie.

Martine Follain is a communications officer with South Bank University's Mad Dog team. BBC News Online will be following the progress of Mad Dog throughout the World Solar Challenge.

Map, BBC

At the front of the field, the American pre-race favourite had a very good opening day.

M-Pulse, built by a team from the University of Michigan, led away from pole position having recorded a qualifying speed of 112.5 km/h (69.9 mph).

As the cars went through the Katherine control point, M-Pulse held the lead ahead of new Dutch entry Nuna, with Aurora, a past Australian winner of this event, in third position.

Early reports indicated some vehicles had reached speeds of up to 130 km/h (80 mph). This impressive show of speed in the first stages of the event, if maintained, would see the leaders reach Adelaide inside four days.

See also:

25 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Mad dog heads for the Sun
25 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Aussies win solar prize
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