Enthusiasm and experience have combined as the South Australian Solar Vehicle Association prepare to debut at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2023.
The event, from October 22-29, is the world's biggest and most prestigious solar vehicle challenge. International teams, usually comprising of tertiary and secondary students, drive 3070km from Darwin to Adelaide in solar-powered vehicles they've engineered and built. Starting in 1987, the event is held every two years and in 2019, set a record 53 entries from 24 countries with about 1500 participants.
While the South Australian Solar Vehicle Association (SASVA) - team number 42 - is a new entrant, almost all of its members have participated in the challenge together before. Among them are university, tertiary training and technical college students, tradespeople, VET lecturers, high school teachers and industry/employer professionals.
This year's SASVA car, named Sun Sprite, is 4995mm long, is designed to have a cruising speed of 78km/h all day, and has a mild steel frame and fibreglass body. It won't charge at night and there won't be any mains power - everything will come from the sun. Race rules say the car can't have more than four square metres of solar panels on it but can carry a Lithium ion battery that weighs no more than 20kg. The driver must weigh at least 80kg - additional weights like gravel bags are carried to make up any difference.
Pat Bosco, 75, has been involved in about eight challenges. While he won't be joining the crew to Darwin this year, he's helped connect participants and sponsors together. He is much supported by his employers including Engineering Employers Association South Australia Group Training Scheme Inc, which later merged with the Australian Industry Group Training Services.
In the past, he's been a traffic controller and occupational health and safety officer - sitting in the support vehicle behind the solar car, talking to the young drivers and checking they were OK, plus setting up camp each night.
Working with his hands and encouraging the next generation of tradespeople have been lifelong vocations for Pat; he completed an apprenticeship in general motors mechanics with Engineering and Water Supply Department (now SA Water) in 1971 and gained teaching and management qualifications, later working for Engineering Employers Association and Technology Teachers Association, among others.
He'd worked his way up to a mechanical superintendent, looking after more than 120 adults across the state.
"Then I thought, 'That's enough of looking after adults.' I found a passion looking after younger people and joined the E&WS Apprenticeship Training Centre that I trained in 10 years earlier. I never looked back - I had found a "passion," Pat said.
He later went in the State Training Authority as a training consultant, looking after more than 240 trade streams and checking on employers and apprentices.
With the Technology Teachers Association, Pat was involved in its International Pedal Prix program as an event coordinator, chief scrutineer and chief marshal. Then he got involved with BikeSA's solar cycle in a similar capacity, before he was approached for the Bridgestone Solar Car Challenge.
Using his connections, students from training colleges and centres, high schools and universities participated in the solar car program. Among the skills students had were electrical, electronics, mechanical, fitting and turning, and welding.
While Pat has travelled to places including Rome, Paris and London, the views through the outback are something else and extra special.
"At eight o'clock in the morning you get yourself ready. You see this beautiful sunshine rising from the horizon, this reddish glow - I can't describe it. This beautiful light blue sky, and you see this sun rising slowly over the horizon," he said.
During the day it gets hotter, but inside the car it's even hotter - up to 54 degrees Celsius and without air-conditioning, so they have systems in place to monitor the driver, including a changeover at least every two hours and radio communication with the support vehicle.
"We get the drivers to do exercises like rolling their eyes, moving their fingers, legs, arms; moving their backside or tickling their toes and talking to us - 'What did you see a few minutes ago? What did you see now? What's coming up? What colour is that truck?'," he said.
Accommodation is sleeping on the side of the road in tents - at the end of the day at 5pm, the cars pull off to the side of the road in that area and the ground is marked with a line, and they resume from that spot in the morning at 8am. Food is from camp cooking and having a shower can sometimes be a luxury - if a site is available nearby.
The personal growth in participants blew Pat away.
"These young kids that went to Darwin were changed individuals when they came back to Adelaide. The host company or the employers of these kids found them to be different - they were motivated, they listened and put in more effort; they wanted to achieve, be challenged and do better," he said.
Many of them went on to managerial and senior roles, including team leaders, managers, supervisors, technical officers, designers and estimators, within their chosen vocation.
The car building and trip to the Top End also offered cultural exchanges. Pat recalled an experience with an Iranian student.
"He had never gone past Port Wakefield Road. When we got to Crystal Brook, we noticed he was not eating with us. I thought, 'What is going on here?' He said he didn't eat meat. We were eating barbecues. So, we learned from each other about cultural differences. We went shopping in Crystal Brook and bought him vegan food so he could eat with us, and we cooked for him as well, and he cooked for himself too. Now he owns his own electrical business and deejays on the side."
William Farina will be on his third run this year, having started about 2017.
He is an electronic technician at REDARC and is studying electronic engineering at uni on the side.
In a previous car, he did a lot of the wiring work, plus metal work and repairs on the road.
"I learned more doing this than in the classroom," he said.
Amit Kumar is studying a masters of cyber security and joined the program after seeing the term "adventure engineering" in an advert.
"I like to tackle challenges," he said.
While his specialty is more intellectual than physical, he's turned his hand at fibreglass, including work for the cabin.
Having arrived from India early this year, he's hoping he can join the convoy - if his exam dates don't overlap.
For more information about the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, click here.
For more information about the South Australian Solar Vehicle Association, click here.
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