By sunlight through the Outback

The strangest things on wheels begin 2,000-mile challenge
Click to follow
The Independent Online
At dawn today the source of power for 46 cars and 11 cycles will rise in the east, and the strangest-looking collection of vehicles on the planet will race from Darwin in northern Australia to Adelaide, nearly 2,000 miles away, writes Robert Milliken in Sydney.

The World Solar Challenge, run across some of the world's emptiest country every three years since 1987, is the biggest opportunity for solar-powered vehicles to prove that they can come close to the performance of cars burning fossil fuels. Yesterday the Honda Dream, the second generation of the car which won in 1993 at a record average speed of 52.7mph, took pole position with a top speed of nearly 84mph. Team officials predicted an average speed this time just short of 60mph.

With entrants from 13 countries, including two from Britain, the competition is tougher than ever. To qualify, cars must be able to travel at a minimum speed of 25mph and prove their stability by passing a "road train", a giant 58-wheel Northern Territory truck-trailer travelling at 50mph in the opposite direction, without being blown over.

The winning solar-powered car is expected to reach Adelaide on Wednesday, and the last entrant is forecast to arrive the following Tuesday. They will race between 8am and 5pm each day, pausing at seven replenishment stops along the monotonously straight Stuart Highway through the Outback, where temperatures are forecast to reach 36C. Many of the entrants are students.

"The people racing their cars, and the hundreds of visitors, are all pioneering a sustainable future," said Hans Tholstrup, the Australian who founded the challenge. "Churchill's praise of Spitfire pilots in 1940 applies to these people. Never have there been so few contributing so much for our future - sustainable energy for the world."