Meet Western Sydney University’s solar car drivers

THe Drivers - Mustapha, Grace and Georgi The solar car drivers - Mustapha, Grace and Georgi.

After months of simulations, trials and test drives, the Western Sydney University Solar Car is primed and ready to race through Australia's red centre.

With the build of UNLIMITED 2.0 complete, and preparations for the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge firmly in place, the reins are now being passed to the drivers.

Meet the Solar Car Team members who will be in the driver's seat of UNLIMITED 2.0 throughout the 3,000km trek from Darwin to Adelaide.

  • Grace Mitchell, a 19 year old Bachelor of Design (Visual Communications) student, is the Graphics Lead for the Solar Car Team. She designed the Sydney skyline graphics on the livery of UNLIMITED 2.0.
  • Georgi Georgieff, a 20 year old Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering) student, is the IT Lead for the Solar Car Team. He is responsible for the communications systems within UNLIMITED 2.0.
  • Mustapha Afaar, a 21 year old Bachelor of Engineering (Robotics and Mechatronics) student, is a member of the Media/ Marketing and Mechanical teams. He is responsible for the team's video content and social posts and also assisted with the car's carbon fibre layup, painting and suspension.

When designing and building UNLIMITED 2.0, the Solar Car Team pulled out all the stops to ensure that the vehicle is able to achieve optimum speed and efficiency. Unfortunately for Grace, Mustapha and Georgi – the trade-off for speed and efficiency is driver comfort.

Mustapha says anything that added unnecessary weight or prevented the car from performing to its optimal standard has been removed from UNLIMITED 2.0.

"The interior consists of nothing more than a moulded carbon fibre seat with a four point safety harness. There is no air conditioning or cooling systems, as these use tremendous amounts of energy. The cabin has also been sealed off as much as possible, as any air that makes its way into the car will create additional drag," says Mustapha.

Mustapha says the four-hour shifts within the tiny driver's compartment of UNLIMITED 2.0 will be long, hot and uncomfortable – but he is up for the challenge.

"I think I will handle it fine. I deal with heat really easily – for me, the main challenge will be keeping mentally stimulated. It's easy to lose yourself, or even get car sick as you follow that long, straight line all the way from Darwin to Adelaide."

The drivers - Mustapha, Grace and Georgi 

When asked whether he's looking forward to driving UNLIMITED 2.0, Georgi has a noncommittal response: "Yes and no," he says.

"It's going to be hot. It gets stuffy in there," says Georgi.

"But with the systems that we have in place, the car can pretty much drive itself. The car has cruise control to maintain its speed. And it's mostly a straight road to Adelaide, so the driver only has to point the car in the right direction, make minor corrections, and avoid any pot holes and road trains."

The road will be long, but Grace, Mustapha and Georgi are in good hands. They each will have an ample supply of water, and will be in constant contact with the convoy of support cars through a high-tech wireless communications system.

For Grace, this support from the team will be a welcome reassurance.

"When I joined the Solar Car Team, I never imagined that I would become one of its drivers," says Grace.

"One day the team just asked me if I'd be interested in driving – I'm always keen to try new things, so I thought – why not? Then I had a test drive with the 2015 vehicle UNLIMITED and it went really well.

"The whole team are so committed, and passionate about this Challenge. I'm happy that I can do my bit, by sitting in the driver's seat – and I know the rest of the team will be behind me all the way."

The 22 member Solar Car Team is comprised of students from the fields of Engineering, Industrial Design and Visual Communications. The students manage every aspect of the production and design of the vehicle, as well as sponsorships, marketing and the administrative elements of their involvement in the Challenge. The team is supported by the University's School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics (SCEM).

The 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge will be held from 8-15 October 2017.

To request updates on the progress of the Western Sydney University Solar Car Team in the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, email media@westernsydney.edu.au.

Ends

12 September 2017

Photos: Joseph Kwan

Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer