Nuna11 in Morocco: racing under tough conditions
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Nuna11 in Morocco: racing under tough conditions

2 December 2021

In October the Vattenfall Solar Team participated in the Solar Challenge Morocco, and what an exciting race it was! The team was driving in its marvelous, lightweight Nuna11, made with the help of AOC. Yet, during the race many challenges had to be overcome.

The last 1.5 year was full of uncertainties because of COVID-19. Yet the Vattenfall Solar Team was very proud to finally be at the start of their big solar race with the innovative Nuna11. This 11th solar car made in Delft was more efficient, faster and safer than its predecessors, having several new features to make the difference.


Different design

The Nuna11 is quite different from the NunaX, racing in the 2019 edition of the Australian race. As a result of the compulsory change of solar cell type from Gallium to Silicon, the surface of the solar panel nearly doubled (now 4 m2 versus 2.6 m2 before). It was the intent of the race organizers to promote the more widely available and affordable Silicon cells.

In order to increase driver safety, the size of the cockpit has increased, leaving more room for the driver. Furthermore, a license plate has to be mounted on the back of the car. This latter change is the most challenging one for the aerodynamics team, since Nuna's trailing edge has always been infinitely smooth and aerodynamic.

The Nuna11 has been made with AOC’s Beyone™ styrene-free resin systems. These sustainable resins feature close-to-zero smell and solvent emissions, and are environmentally preferred alternatives to conventional styrene-based resin systems. The result is a superb Nuna11 vehicle that combines lightweight, great aerodynamics, and dimensional stability at elevated temperatures


Day 1: starting at 2nd position

During the qualification race on a street circuit near Agadir stadium, the Nuna11 performed much better than expected with a qualifying time of 2:23 min, allowing to start at 2nd position. After taking off, the Nuna11 had to drive in the busy traffic of one the largest cities in Morocco. The team’s assignment was to move as quickly as possible along the 11 roundabouts, through the valley to the mountain pass (as on the narrow mountain roads overtaking competitors is more challenging). The vehicle was accompanied by convoy cars along traffic jams, freight vans, but also some occasional donkey-pulled carts.

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(Photo: Hans-Peter van Velthoven)

Leaving the city of Agadir, the team passed through a nice valley into a mountainous area. The clouds in the sky already visible at the start in the morning continued to close in and unfortunately were catching away the sunlight. Consequently, the Nuna dropped to a third position in the ranking. In the last part of the route, the first true mountain roads were entered. This is where Nuna's asymmetrical design came in handy, which provides additional stability to the solar car.


Day 2: steep mountains

The Vattenfall Solar Team left from Zagora, driving towards the East, where the stone desert makes way for sand dunes. This route went through tough mountain roads, parts so steep and winding that even passenger cars had a hard time managing the slope. The Nuna managed to conquer the steepest mountains much better than anticipated, and even managed to catch up with the competition while climbing. 

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Nuna in the mountains (Photo: Jorrit Lousberg)

The second part of the day the Nuna unfortunately picked up less solar energy than expected, so it had to drive slower than planned and had to concede distance to its competitors.


Day 3: smooth ride and a sand storm

After starting at 08:06 am, pretty soon the mountains started to loom and the Nuna entered the mountain pass, which contained the steepest part of the entire route. For the rest of the day the Nuna was driving smoothly as expected.

Once the team arrived at the camp after 10 hours and 28 minutes on the road (again in 3rd position), the challenges were not over. An dense fog consisting of sand approached the site, and soon everything was covered by the sand. Even between the rice this could be tasted. This fog slowly turned into a sandstorm with tents being blown away, while Nuna had to be well protected.

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(Photo: Jorrit Lousberg)

The drivers and the media team were taken to a hotel, so that at least they would get a good night's sleep. Subsequently, it was predicted that rain and lightning would soon appear, so the organization advised to sleep inside the cars. The team saw the lightning, but fortunately heavy rain did not come. Halfway through the night the wind settled down again and it became quiet again in the camp. Nuna also turned out to be undamaged, so fortunately it could leave the next morning.


Day 4: rain and some extra surprises

While in Merzouga the team had to deal with strong winds, there was a lot of rain in the rest of the region. As a result, the normally bone-dry Sahara riverbeds suddenly turned into small rivers and in some places flooded the road. Often Nuna was able to drive only at walking pace through the water and then continue the road through the (otherwise dry) desert.

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(Photo: Jorrit Lousberg )

Today’s route was favorable for Nuna11. The sun fell on the right side on the tilted solar panel, so there was more solar yield. Yet - after the restless night and the water on the road - it was still not an easy ride for the Vattenfall Solar Team. During the 449 km stretch, more and more team members started to feel unwell. The brackish night and probably something wrong at the dinner of the day before affected more than half of the team.

Despite all the illness cases, the Vattenfall Solar Team Nuna11 managed to cross the finish line well before the time limit. Nevertheless, the gap to leader Twente and the Belgian Agoria had increased further. Chances that the team could still close the gap during the last part of the race seemed slim given the circumstances. Yet Christiaan Wiers refused to throw in the towel. "We have to keep trying to get the best out of our team. Who knows what might happen next. As with all races, solar races are not over until the finish line is reached."


Day 5: driving with a small team

After having had four tough days, the last day of the Solar Challenge Morocco arrived. Even on the last day it was not easy for the Vattenfall Solar Team. Nine of the seventeen team members were impacted by a stomach flu, which meant that they could not participate in the last race day, but were driven directly to the finish in Agadir. Consequently, all convoy cars had to be rearranged, so that there were still enough healthy team members in the most critical cars for steering the race in the right direction. The team started the day with the goal of winning the 5th day, even though the members realized that with so many colleagues dropping out, it would probably be the toughest day so far.

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(Foto: Hans-Peter van Velthoven )

With 448 kilometers to go, Nuna11 drove better than before. The incidence of the sun today was the most optimal compared to the previous days and today's route also went downhill for a large part. The effects of this were clearly noticeable: the Agoria Solar Team was overtaken by Nuna11, and a little later Nuna11 also overtook Solar Team Twente!

Although the team seemed to be on its way to a nice revenge for the past few days, the Nuna11 has to be put on the side of the road because the team did not want to take any risks with regard to battery overheating. Powerless, the team watched as they were passed by the competition again.

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(Photo: Hans-Peter van Velthoven )

The team finished in third place today and thus also finished third in the overall ranking. Nevertheless, the team looks back with satisfaction. “We competed to win today and were able to compete with the other teams, and that gives us a lot of satisfaction,” concludes Christiaan Wiers. “It was an incredible experience, something we will remember all our lives. ”Of course we are going for the win in South Africa next year, and the year after that we will just race again at the world championship in Australia! Finally!”


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