Solar-powered car race zooms into Chile

Endowed with enormous potential for solar energy, Chile hopes to use the race to become a regional hub for the green technology.

Even as the world-famous Dakar Rally roared out of the Chilean desert this week, gears were set in motion for a completely different kind of race.
On January 11, Energy Minister Rodrigo Álvarez officially launched the second edition of the race in which competitors traverse the lunar landscapes of the Atacama desert in northern Chile – only this time, in solar-powered vehicles.
Teams from around the continent began signing up for the event, renamed the “Atacama Solar Race,” and organizers hope for an even larger turn-out than last year’s inaugural event, which was won by the local Antakari team.
The race covers over 660 miles (1,060 km) of the most arid desert in the world, powered only by the sun – and, in some cases, a bit of old-fashioned leg work.
Two categories are held, one for vehicles powered completely by the sun’s rays and one for those run on a combination of solar and pedal power.
But while the former category might contain the flashier Star Wars-style racers, the latter is by no means without its advantages.
Sebastián Lora, the driver of a three-wheeled creation, explained its construction to Reuters.
“This is a vehicle with a chassis made of two plastic stays with motorbike suspension on the rear wheels. Really, it’s like a motorbike with three wheels and constructed with an aluminum frame to stand the weight of the solar panels,” Lora said.
Chile is hoping to use the event to become a hub for solar technology, taking advantage of its natural advantages that – according to renowned US scientist Stanford Ovshinsky – could enable the country to become the world’s leading provider of solar energy.
At the launch, which took place at in the Las Vizcachas race track in Santiago, Chile’s Energy Minister said that the Atacama Solar Race was at the forefront of the country’s challenge to develop renewable non-conventional energies.
“This type of event, where solar energy is the fulcrum of all of these innovative projects, is what we have to grow so that everyday Chileans can learn about renewable energy. . . [and so] we can consolidate new alternatives for our energy matrix.”
The 2012 edition of the race will be held in November.