By Martin Vedris

DARWIN: The biennial Panasonic World Solar Challenge launched on its 3,000 km journey through Australia’s red centre from Darwin to Adelaide on Sunday — the event’s official website received a record 550,000 hits on Monday 22 October.

This year’s event sees solar cars competing in two classes — Challenge Class, which restricts cars to only six square metres of solar panel and Adventure Class, which allows up to eight square metres of solar panel. There is also the Greenfleet Technology Class which includes electric cars and conventional internal combustion cars running experimental environmentally friendly fuel technologies such bio-diesel, waste oil and water and ethanol fuel blends.

With some of the solar cars capable of speeds in excess of 140 kph, competitors in the event will be experiencing another new restriction for the first time this year — the new Northern Territory speed limit of 130 kph on the previously open speed limit Stuart Highway.

Despite the speed limitations, the first solar vehicles are expected to reach the finish at Victoria Square, Adelaide, on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. It will probably be the Adventure Class vehicles taking line honours however, with the extra two square metres of solar panel proving an advantage over the Challenge Class vehicles.

A total of 38 solar vehicles and 19 Greenfleet vehicles are taking part this year. Vehicles must only travel from eight am to five pm each day and must camp each night at the point they reach at the close of racing each day.

It is a diverse field this year with entries from 17 countries including the USA, Japan, UK, Germany, The Netherlands and Taiwan. Australia fielded eight solar vehicle teams.