By Wilson da Silva
SYDNEY – Japan’s Honda Dream car built up a solid lead over Swiss rival, Spirit of Biel III, on the second day of the world’s toughest solar car race on Monday as the 54-car field moved across the Australian outback.
The cockroach-like Honda car streaked past the Swiss team late on Sunday and took a 15-minute, 23 km (14 mile) lead in the 3,000 km (1,865 mile) race by Monday morning, race organisers travelling with the cars told Reuters.
But the Honda Motor Co’s Dream, which has averaged 84 km/h (52 miles) so far, was challenged again by Spirit of Biel and the Swiss shaved five minutes off the lead some 250 km (155 miles) north of Alice Springs.
The Swiss team stunned onlookers when it overtook a “road train” – an extended lorry used to move livestock – on a hill.
But by the end of the day the Swiss team started to fall back after twice changing tyres. Race spokesman Steve Jonas said from Adelaide that one of the Spirit of Biel tyres was cutting into the car’s bodywork and slowing it down.
“Biel has been having trouble with the fairing of the car rubbing on one of the tyres, and a couple of times they’ve had to stop,” Jonas said. “The gap between them now is considerable, between 25 minutes and an hour.”
The two lead cars have hit top speeds of 96 kmh (60 mph) and are set to beat previous race records set by the 1987 winners, General Motors Corp’s Sunraycer of the United States, and the 1990 champions, Ingenieurschule Biel of Switzerland.
The cars run solely on electric power collected from the sun’s rays and race between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day, with an obligatory stop of 10 minutes halfway through the day where teams can change drivers.
There was a 90-minute gap to third-placed Son of Sun, a team from Japanese battery makers Kyocera Corp. Half-hour behind in fourth was Aurora Q1, a team of Australian engineers from the local unit of U.S. car maker Ford Motor Co.
The Toyota car, Toyota 56, tipped as a serious challenger, was running fifth and nearly an hour behind Aurora, averaging only 68 km/h (42 mph).
Before the race, Toyota had boasted of attaining top speeds of 120 km/h (74.5 miles) in tests but the car has yet to show its promised magic.
The race north to south across the harsh, hot outback began on Sunday in Darwin and the cars are expected to cross the finish line in Adelaide on Wednesday or Thursday.
Two of the 54 cars that started, the sole Russian team and another Swiss vehicle, dropped out on Monday.
Teams from 13 nations are fighting for the World Solar Challenge crown – Japan, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Denmark, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Germany, and Puerto Rico.