The vehicle built by UNSW students was able to cover 1000km in a record-beating time.

The Sunswift 7, a solar-powered EV designed and built by UNSW Sydney students, holds claim to a provisional Guinness World Record after travelling 1000km in under 12 hours.

Completing the feat at the Australian Automotive Research Centre in Wensleydale, Victoria, the vehicle was able to cover the distance in 11 hours and 53.32 minutes, equating to an average speed of 85km/h over that distance.

This means the Sunswift Racing Team holds the unofficial record for the ‘Fastest EV over 1000km on a single charge’. The claim of the official record and the associated Guinness World Record certificate will have to wait until experts have analysed and confirmed the timing information and vehicle telemetry data.

Sunswift 7 itself is the latest in a long line of solar-powered cars developed by UNSW, the first of which was made back in 1996. While not something intended for production given the compromises on comfort such as a lack of air conditioning and airbags, it weighs a mere 500kg, boasts an incredibly aerodynamic body, low rolling resistance, and very efficient electric motors which could influence the technology used in future road-going EVs.

The strict stipulations of the event meant that it could not be stationary for more than 15 minutes, with it only intended to stop in brief intervals for driver changes, but a battery management issue saw it brought to a complete halt at one point. However, one member of the team was able to rectify the issue and get the car going again in 14 minutes and 52 seconds. A tyre puncture also presented another nerve-wracking repair.

The UNSW students involved in the Sunswift 7 program were unsurprisingly ecstatic with the performance of the vehicle and the fact they were part of what promises to be a world record.

“It feels very weird to think that we’ve helped to make something that’s the best in the entire world,” said Sunswift Racing Team manager Andrea Holden, a Mechanical Engineering student at UNSW Sydney.

“Two years ago, when we started to build this car, everything was going into lockdown and there were a lot of difficult moments. But it’s been so rewarding to see the whole team come together and make so much progress and get us to this amazing point. It was a lot of work and a lot of hours and a lot of stress, but it’s all been worth it. This world record is validation of all the effort everyone in the team has put in.”

Team principal and Professor of Practice Richard Hopkins – formerly the head of operations at Red Bull F1 – was also understandably proud of the student team that was able to achieve such a feat, noting that the whole team had its doubts whether it could achieve the record.

“Let’s remember, these are not the best paid professional car makers in Stuttgart working for Mercedes. This is a bunch of very smart amateurs who have taken all the ingredients and put it together in a brilliant way,” said Professor Hopkins.

“I don’t like to call them ‘normal’ students. The reason is that UNSW is the top ranked engineering university in Australia and this is the top engineering project within the university. So it attracts the very best. But these young men and women are the future and they have already demonstrated here with Sunswift what they are capable of – imagine what they will do when we let them loose on the wider world.

“This team have focused on ultimate efficiency in order to break this world record. They have shown what is ultimately achievable if you concentrate on aerodynamics, and rolling resistance and the use of smart materials.”

Professor Hopkins also highlighted just what strides the team was able to make when it comes to reducing energy consumption – the issue most crucial to the real world range of electric vehicles, particularly when driving at high speeds.

“During this record, the energy consumption was just 3.8kWh/100km, whereas even the most efficient EVs on the road today only achieve a rating of 15kWh/100km and the average is around 20kWh/100km,” Professor Hopkins added.

“Sunswift 7 isn’t a production car of the future, since we’ve compromised on comfort and the cost is prohibitive. But we have shown that if you want to make cars more efficient, more sustainable, more environmentally friendly, then it is possible.”

Photography by Richard Freeman.

Patrick Jackson
Share this article: