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Japanese take World Solar Challenge

Dutch and USA fill the podium

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Tokai University has taken the World Solar Challenge after one of the tightest last days in the history of the race. After 3,000km and five days, just over an hour separated first and second place, with The Netherlands' Nuon team running a close second.

Drivers Kenjiro Shinozuka and Kouhei Sagawa celebrate Team Tokai's win

In a race disrupted by bushfires and rather unusually marred by a vehicle fire that somewhat crimped Team Solar Philippines’ style, the winners crossed the finish line at 1.05pm Darwin Time.

Today’s stretch to the last compulsory checkpoint at Port Augusta was highly competitive with the Dutch Team Nuon hitting the mark about 25 minutes after Tokai.

Team Nuon then went hell for leather in a high-risk strategy to try to catch up on the final leg to Adelaide. This meant a rapidly draining battery in their solar car, Nuna 6, and crossed fingers that the sun would give them a last boost to the finish line.

But then the skies clouded over and light rain began to fall, causing Nuon to slow down. The team, students from the University of Delft, ended the race in second place at 2.12pm, just over an hour behind Tokai.

So, Port Augusta to Adelaide turned into a procession for Tokai, its support vehicles and accompanying media circus.

The Register Special Projects Bureau team followed Tokai to the finish line and can report that their vehicle averaged 100km/h on the final stretch, despite heavy traffic, some roadworks, trundling road train menaces and overcast skies.

After around half an hour of back-slapping and posing for the press at the official race end, the Japanese headed off for the ceremonial finale of the World Solar Challenge at Victoria Square in the centre of Adelaide.

Here, a municipal fountain provided a welcome end to five days out Outback heat, as this World Solar Challenge snap shows:

Tokai celebrate in Adelaide's Victoria Square. Pic: World Solar Challange

Back on the outskirts of the city, meanwhile, Michigan were third past the chequered flag. They'll camp there tonight with Nuon before the two brave commuter traffic en route to Victoria Square tomorrow morning. Nuon had plenty of time today to get into Adelaide, but had completely exhausted their solarcar's batteries.

The Dutch were in good spirits, though, despite the damp and their narrow defeat, and looked in a party mood when we left them and Michigan for what will undoubtedly be a lively night.

The Dutch team celebrate their second place

In the end, then, Nuon failed to recapture the solar crown they lost to Tokai in 2009, while Michigan have yet to lift the Oz World Solar Challenge trophy, despite having twice triumphed in the US equivalent.

Team Tokai driver Kenjiro Shinozuka (pictured at top with fellow driver Kouhei Sagawa) told us the Japanese were intending to toast their victory with "a few bottles of Australian wine". Since his team numbers around 20, we suspect someone's credit card will be taking the hit tonight for a hefty bar bill.

Meanwhile, further north...

It's also raining 600km back up the Stuart Highway in Glendambo, the eighth of nine checkpoints on the 3,000km route. Glendambo is a place that "doesn't really do rain", a local told us yesterday, so quite what sort of pandemonium there is at the checkpoint we can only imagine.

Event organisers are reporting total cloud cover in the region and this will surely impede the progress of the chasing pack of Ashiya University of Japan, Solar Team Twente of the Netherlands and Aurora of Australia. ®

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