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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 12:54 GMT
Dogged pursuit in the outback
Mad Dog, South Bank Uni
A triumph for all those involved
The only British entry in the World Solar Challenge 2001 eventually finished in 16th position, covering the 3,010-kilometre (1,870 miles) course from Darwin to Adelaide in five and a half days. The solar car, Mad Dog III, averaged 66 km/h (41 mph) for the event.

It broke its record top speed, reaching 100 km/h (62 mph). It also set a new record for the distance it could cover in one day - just over 600 km (370 miles).

On this page, the team - the staff and students from South Bank University in London - reflect on their Australian adventure.

Martine Follain, communications officer

I went into this assuming it was going to be a standard race - albeit with solar cars - with a healthy competitive streak predominant throughout.

And yes, there was an element of that, obviously, but there was also room for a friendly spirit of collaboration and good humour.

Our team leader kept repeating the word "flexibility"

Mike Duke, our team leader, kept repeating the word "flexibility", and I soon understood why. Pretty much anything can happen - as was proven by our crash into a ditch on day two. It's impossible to plan ahead; you are at the mercy of the elements and a big downpour can halt your progress - as was the case on day four when we had to camp in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, frustratingly close to a town.

At the same time, it is precisely those unexpected events that allow you to discover things you probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. OK, so I got soaking wet because the rain dripped through into the inside of my tent, but the Sun rising over the landscape the following morning was a beautiful sight. How often do you harmonise your daily rhythm to the elements and experience them so closely as opposed to sheltering from them in a solid brick house?

Once I'd got used to the pace of the race, it did feel like we were in a strange sort of time warp. I thought I would have plenty of time to read but I barely opened my book.

Mad Dog, South Bank Uni
The focus was mainly on this silent arrow, gliding close to the ground, which required so much attention. In addition, the driver of the car had to be constantly warned of obstacles on the road or passing vehicles as he was fairly isolated in his little bubble.

Two-way radios were in use all the time between Mad Dog and the chase vehicle (which follows the solar car very closely), and between all three accompanying vehicles.

Communications with the outside world were inevitably very limited and it was a real struggle to e-mail a report back to BBC News Online at the end of every day. But the students' resourcefulness and the kindness of the Australians along the way made it possible.

Roadhouse directors let us use their offices and a library stayed open late for us, but none would accept payment. Perhaps they all felt like me that it was a privilege to be involved in this exceptional adventure.

Nigel Burgess, lead pilot

I've done this race three times now and it didn't feel that different this time. I suppose it gets easier but the challenge this time was to handle a much bigger group of students, guiding them through what they had to do.

We did the usual Mad Dog thing in that we overcame the insurmountable problems and carried on to the finish. Dealing with the crash and rolling the car out at 8am was a huge achievement.

When something bad happens, you shouldn't immediately jump to the conclusion that everything is over

It would be the end if we didn't finish a race - for me but also for the students no doubt.

I think the students need to experience all the aspects of the race, good and bad. The crash provided a very good lesson which I hope they will take away with them beyond the race, as a positive experience: when something bad happens, you shouldn't immediately jump to the conclusion that everything is over.

You need to stand back and make a clear assessment of what can be done about it. Even if appearances look bad, don't give up, look in the box, see if you've got a bid of string and tape, and off you go.

The big achievement was the enormous improvement we achieved in beating our records - in terms of distance in one day and in terms of top speed.

We'd made and investment in technology by buying a new motor and new cells and these made a significant difference to the performance of a car that is coming to the end of its useful racing life.

Mad Dog, South Bank University
It's not over until it's over

The Students

It was a real adventure and we hadn't known what to expect. It was all a new experience and it was hard work in conditions that weren't exactly easy.

For a start, we felt we had to jump in at the deep end with a car that we hadn't built. We were all thrown together as a group but we enjoyed learning to work together, making decisions together, managing issues and solving problems as a team.

When the crash happened, we were unanimous: we all wanted to repair Mad Dog. We knew what we had to do and we got on with it.

It was interesting to be in competition with teams from all over the world. There were plenty of lessons to be learnt and we will take away that experience to build our next car.

We all felt it was a once in a lifetime experience. How often do you get to travel through the Australian outback while participating in a world solar challenge? We are very thankful to have been given this opportunity and we would definitely do it again - hopefully with our next car.

The Mad Dog team includes three staff members from South Bank University, and 13 students and one member of staff from the Fachhochschule Bochum in German.

Graphic, BBC
See also:

21 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Dutch win solar car race
19 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Dog's disastrous day
25 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Mad dog heads for the Sun
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