Scrutineering

The WSC officials are generally really friendly to our team, but that doesn’t mean that static scrutineering is a breeze. While WSC is generally known to grade you on “the spirit of the rules” rather than “the letter of the law,” it seemed that WSC had gotten a lot stricter since the previous cycle.

There were a bunch of stations to go through, and a few stations involved a lot of arguing and a few were really easy. Most teams (the top teams included) fail multiple sections their first time through static, and Stanford was no exception. The worst thing they had a problem with was the positioning of the WSC tracking unit, which wasn’t so bad all things considered.

However, it did mean that we needed the rest of the day to make modifications. Was not an easy day. I also practiced the figure 8 test, and it turned out it was not easy in our car. We said it’d probably be okay and moved on. (ominous music)

The next morning, the team took the car back to static scrutineering. I stayed behind and did some laundry at the cabins. We’d had a hot lap practice session booked for early afternoon, but it became clear that static scrutineering was likely to take the rest of the day. I walked to the track and cancelled our appointment and made two new ones.

I hung out at the track for basically the rest of the day while the team was at static. It was really boring – most other teams were at static, too, so it was a pretty dead day. I called my parents twice and texted as many people as possible. Then my phone died so I just sat.

Finally, at 4 PM, everyone came back with a pass on static scrutineering. Woohoo! Except everyone was really tired and dead from the long, excruciating day, so there wasn’t much woohoo-ing.

From 5-5:30, we had our first hot lap practice appointment. I’ve done lots of autocross (cone course in a parking lot), but I’ve actually never driven on a track before. Hayden asserted that I would be fine, and we had him on Chase radio to talk me through the course. For reference, when the solar car goes on the track, the Chase vehicle has to follow it around.

Driving around the track in the solar car was cool but also nerveracking – our car was not made for performance driving, and there’s lots of risk involved in tracking, period. We decided long ago that we would not push the car to limits during the hot lap, for fear of overloading our chassis. It wasn’t too hard to keep the solar car below that limit, as it turned out. Also, the Hayden radio-Rachel driving dynamic on the track was pretty cool. That was probably the highlight of Darwin. Hayden gave a constant stream of feedback and reminders, and I felt like our “road rally” from Tasmania was back in a real way. We were pretty happy with how things went on the track, but decided to study the track more that night to see where we could get some free speed without pushing harder.

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The next day was our 15 minute figure 8 test, for real this time. It became pretty clear that the car was nearly incapable of passing the test, and that it would require a bit of a miracle. It wasn’t that the car wasn’t stable – it was that the car was too stable. At low speed, the car could pass the test, but at higher speeds we would just understeer a lot and fall out of the figure 8. We even asked one of the pro drivers from another team (after getting permission from WSC) to help us pass, and his conclusion was that it probably wasn’t possible. In the end, our best time was a little over 19 seconds, but we needed to do it in 18 seconds or under and that was that. The officials told us we’d have to serve a 30 minute penalty during the race, which sucked a lot.

In between the many times we tried to pass the figure 8 test, we had our second and last hot lap practice session. We didn’t use the full 30 minutes and only did a few laps, just to practice what Hayden and I had talked about the night before. Hayden on radio was fun again. The final and best time was 2:20, which we were fairly happy with.

The next day was dynamic scrutineering, which involved the hot lap and then the slalom and braking test. We’d successfully practiced the slalom, so we knew that would be okay. Stanford went 6th out of the 40ish teams. We found out that morning that the Chase vehicle wasn’t allowed on the track for the actual hot lap, which caused me to freak out momentarily. I was pretty nervous.

But when the time came, I reminded myself to just think about it like it’s textbook, and it’d be fine. Our official hot lap time was 2:21, so I was relieved that I could be consistent even without Hayden behind me.

The slalom was not tested according to the regulations, and was super duper easy and slow. The braking test was also easy, but all the teams were confused about when we were supposed to brake so lots of us had to do it twice. In any case, we easily passed both the slalom and brake tests.

I was worried that Arctan had done about 10 seconds better during its hot lap, achieving a grid position of ~12th, but most teams actually took it easier than they had during Arctan cycle. There was also a restructuring of the grid to start the Challenger class before the Cruiser class, so with all that accounted for, Sundae would be 12th in the grid. So it turned out okay! And our chassis was okay too.

World Solar Challenge 2017 would start the next day. I’d be driving the first shift of the race to handle the solar car and regular traffic on the way out of Darwin, and that would conclude my solar car driving career!

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