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Drag the dead donkey

First up, beware the Japanese of Tokai University, who took the title in 2009 and are back to defend their crown with an impressively sleek solar beast. We asked Kenjiro Shinozuka (pictured, below), what made the difference between success and failure in a high-stakes solar race.

Kenjiro Shinozuka of Tokai University

He told us: "This year the organisers changed the regulations. We can't use more powerful panels, and everyone is using silicon. This has levelled the playing field. So nine or ten teams have almost the same performance. The most important day is tomorrow: the first day. If anyone makes a small mistake it could be come a big problem."

Pitched against the might of Japan is the University of Michigan, whose truly tremendous trailer has raised a few eyebrows here in Darwin. Pilot Troy Halm (pictured) said the World Solar Challenge is the world's most competitive solarcar endurance event and that the team is here to win the race, after ending in third place a frustrating three times in a row.

Troy Halm of the University of Michigan

The Michigan car is performing "very, very well," he says. "We have spent countless hours in optimizing the car. It is extremely light and extraordinarily efficient."

Regarding the trailer, he laughed and invited us to take a look see. You can see the interior in our upcoming vid, but suffice to say, it's the USS Nimitz on wheels. In fact it is almost as big as a U2 green room trailer.

No matter how big your trailer, you've still got to beat the Dutch, in the form of Nuon and their Nuna6. The five-times champions are back in Australia to regain their crown, and although we missed their car trials down at the Hidden Valley Motor Sport Complex track, we were able to catch up with some of the team experts at their luxury apartment complex close to the centre of Darwin.

Willem Zwetsloot (pictured right, below, with, Mike Hoogstraten centre, and Noud Brasjen) declared: "We want the title back, so the pressure is on again. Our focus this year is on the reliability of the car. In previous years we have seen many cars breaking down and that is costly. We are battling very hard for first place and we see Tokai and Michigan as the big contenders. But many other teams experienced in the silicon class are here - we will see what happens."

Nuon team members pose for the camera

The Heart of Lightness

The front page of today's newstastic NT NewsWe will indeed. Tomorrow, teams and media will assemble in the centre of Darwin for a quick photo call before heading off into the dusty heart of Oz. Expect updates as and when conditions allow, and for our bootnotes fans, I leave you with today's front page of the NT News, which leads with the quite remarkable story of the 13-year-old lad who was not unreasonably pulled by the local Boys in Blue while towing a donkey carcass behind a 4x4.

This being Oz, he also had a firearm on the passenger seat, although he mercifully wasn't cracking one off and toking on a fat spliff when officers swooped.

As of right now, we have two heartfelt wishes: to arrive safe and sound in Adelaide; and if we do perish on the highway, not to feature on the front page of the NT News. Check our Twitter thingy to see if we're still alive, and therefore, non-newsworthy. ®

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