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World solar challenge;Solar power;Science amp; technology

THE world's most demanding solar vehicle race set off from Darwin on October 17, 1999 . Forty solar racing cars sped across the Australian outback trying to be the first to reach Adelaide, 3000 km away.

The weather was terrible, with dark cloudy skies and strong head winds slowing down all the teams. The South Bank University car, Mad Dog 3, was the only UK entrant and one of the few top teams with lead-acid batteries. Better financed teams were able to use exotic batteries such as silver-zinc or lithiumion. These lighter batteries with greater energy storage capacity offer a distinct advantage under poor weather conditions.

Each evening the teams stopped by the side of the deserted road and made camp. There could be up to 200km between any human habitation, so all food and water had to be carried by the support vehicles.

After seven days of very close racing, the UK team was delighted to complete the gruelling race and finish second in their class (20th overall). This performance is all the more impressive considering that Mad Dog 3 was built in only 10 months after the retirement of Mad Dog 2 to the National Science Museum, London, where it will soon be on permanent display.

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