It all started in the beginning of 2017. Five talented students from the TopDutch region had a wild and daring idea. ‘What if we could build the first solar car ever produced in the North of the Netherlands and race in Australia?’ So far, mainly teams from technical universities like the Dutch universities of Delft and Twente participated. The University of Groningen and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences aren’t even technical universities.
Nevertheless, the TopDutch talents decided to go for it. ‘We thought it was super cool. But we were also a bit surprised that no one ever had the idea to build a TopDutch solar car, especially when you know that in the green energy sector in the North, solar cells and their development are high on the agenda’, explains team lead and one of the five founders, Jeroen Brattinga.
An idea coming to life
They had an idea. Then what? The team did research for more than six months, getting as prepared as they possibly could to talk to potential investors and partners. Brattinga: ‘It was a bit scary to pitch our idea, actually. What would people think?’
Not long after that, the first partners decided to stand behind the TopDutch talent team and their solar car plans. The TopDutch Solar Racing Foundation was born. ‘Probably because our preparations were good. We meant it. We were serious. For instance, we arranged for two of our team members to go to the solar race in Australia in October, 2017, to do on-site research’, explains Brattinga. ‘That visit also literally gave us the chance to look under the hood of other teams during the inspection prior to the race. We took a lot of photos there!’
Taking a flight
A year after the team had a wild idea, that idea had come to life. In January, 2018, the TopDutch solar racing ambitions took a flight with the first designs of the test car. They even got to present the test car to the Dutch King and Queen in April, when they visited the TopDutch region for King’s Day festivities in honor of the King’s birthday.
By May, the car was ready for a spin. The TopDutch team tested their innovative new vehicle at the TT circuit in Assen, the TopDutch region’s racetrack. Test results were very good, according to Brattinga. So good, that the team decided to start developing the actual, aerodynamic solar car that will race in Australia in October, 2019. In January of 2019, the team started to compose the parts of the solar car and in April, the assembly started.
The big reveal
An exciting moment for the TopDutch Solar Racing team: June 12th, 2019. The big reveal of the first ever TopDutch solar racing car. And what a beauty it is! If everything goes according to plan, the first ever TopDutch solar race participation will be a fact. And the chances of winning? ‘Around forty teams race, and we believe that we have a chance to finish at least top ten’, says Brattinga.
A regional effort
The TopDutch Solar Racing team is, in contrast to most other participants in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, not a university team. Brattinga: ‘We are a regional team, meaning that we have students from all disciplines in our team.’ Over the journey so far, the team has expanded from five talents to twenty-seven, all between the ages of 18 and 28.
And they are running their own show. For example, the technical team has developed their own engine. Brattinga explains: ‘We developed it from scratch, especially designed for our car. It’s lighter than the solar engines currently on the market. We believe that ours is more efficient.’
The regional effort is what made the TopDutch solar adventure a success, claims team lead Brattinga. ‘We work together with educational institutions and companies in the North of the Netherlands. If you have an idea, as wild as it gets, it is possible to come to life in the TopDutch Region. But only by working together: organizations, companies, students and educational institutions. By combining talent, facilities and research, it is possible.’
Brattinga sees the journey of building the first TopDutch solar car ever as so much more than just participating in a race. ‘It’s a showcase for our region. Isn’t it great that by working together, the TopDutch region can participate in such a world challenge? The talent is here, we’ve proven that. Combine it well, and magic happens.’
Bridgestone World Solar Challenge
In the beginning of August, 2019, the TopDutch solar car is transported to Australia. By the end of that month, the team will also fly Down Under. Then follows two weeks of testing, to see if the car is resistant to local conditions. On October 13th, the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge starts, a race of 3022 kilometers through Australia.