On the 19th September 2020, the Durham University Electric Motorsport (DUEM) team completed a unique 24-hour solar challenge at Ouston Airfield, with ‘Ortus’, the solar-powered car they designed and built themselves.

Following their success at the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC) in Australia, the DUEM team had originally hoped to compete in the 2020 iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC); the only 24 hour endurance race in the world for solar cars that takes place in Belgium every two years.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team made the difficult decision to withdraw from the race. Despite the challenges 2020 has brought, they have worked tirelessly to improve and modify Ortus to ensure she is race ready and could perform competitively at iESC.  Therefore, to show off the hard work and effort the team has put into Ortus, DUEM decided to set their own ground-breaking challenge.

Their goal was to complete the distance from Durham to Circuit Zolder in Belgium (where iESC took place) within 24 hours. As the team could not partake in the race itself, they were excited to take part in spirit.

The team at RAF Ouston consisted of 22 engineers, including 6 drivers racing the car. The event took place from 12:00 on 19th September to 12:00 on 20th September 2020, at the same time as the iLumen European Solar Challenge.

Their car, Ortus, travelled a total distance of 414 km, roughly the distance from Durham to London and well over halfway to Circuit Zolder! Whilst they did not get as far as they had hoped, the team is still very proud of how much they achieved within those 24 hours. Their fastest lap time was 5:00:92 and each lap was 4.5 km long.

The car started the event fully charged and was charged again for 3 hours at roughly 02:00 on the 20th September. The rest of its power came solely from the sun.

It is safe to say the odds were against the DUEM team from the start, with a rougher track route than expected, they were forced to change 7 tyres in total due to punctures and blow outs. In addition to this, whilst Circuit Zolder in Belgium (the location of iESC) enjoyed beautiful sunshine, DUEM was up against rain and fog throughout the night and well into the morning of the 20th September. The team were able to learn so much through this experience and their problem-solving skills were tested more than ever. Despite these challenges, morale remained high throughout the event and this valuable experience will only prove to strengthen the bonds between team members, as well as improve their abilities as engineers.

The team were disappointed not to make it to iESC due to the COVID-19 restrictions on travel. However, iESC was so impressed with DUEM’s initiative and ability to overcome challenges that they awarded DUEM with ‘the Hybrid Challenge Award’. This is a trophy that means so much to DUEM after the challenging year they have faced and is an award that the OSC team will always treasure!

Whilst COVID-19 still poses a real challenge for the team to be able to complete their ambitious goals, DUEM’s future remains bright. With plans to improve Ortus further, compete in new international challenges and begin designing their next car, the DUEM team will have plenty to do in 2021 and beyond.

It was a real shame to have to withdraw from the iLumen European Solar Challenge 2020 – everyone has worked incredibly hard this year to push Ortus to its limits, and we were all really looking forward to competing against the other European teams in Belgium. However, by doing OSC, we hope to be there in spirit; not even a global pandemic can stop a solar car team from taking on new challenges!’ – Isaac Rudden, Team Principal 2019/20

‘We really wanted to do an event to showcase the excellent work we’ve done this year, as well as thank our amazing sponsors for the support they’ve given us – we wouldn’t be where we are today if not for their input. By taking on the Ouston Solar Challenge we’re continuing to show the world the awesome power of renewable technology and alternative transport!’ – Tommy Osrin, Head of Sponsorship