Every two years, students from around the world converge on Australia to race solar cars across the continent.

In the World Solar Challenge (WSC), they compete to see which purpose-built solar car is most efficient over 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) on the journey between Australia's northern and southern coasts.

As in any race, the WSC can be as much of a test of endurance for the support crews as it is for the drivers piloting the solar cars.

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Teams have to shadow their cars throughout the five-day event, and address any problems in the field.

So what motivates students to travel Down Under and race solar cars?

Two members of the Stanford Solar Car team--which finished sixth in the 2015 event--explained that in a recent interview with The Stanford Daily.

Stanford Solar Car 2015 by Flickr user SUSolarCar (Used under CC License)

Stanford Solar Car 2015 by Flickr user SUSolarCar (Used under CC License)

Kelsey Josund and Gawan Fiore are both seniors at the university, and ran telemetry systems for Stanford's car during the 2015 WSC back in October.

They enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with undertaking the five-day trek across Australia, they said, both among the 40-person Stanford team and the broader group of roughly 1,300 students that participated in the event overall.

In 2015, 40 teams from 20 countries entered the event.

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The solar-car program also presents students an opportunity to do something far outside their normal classroom experience. Undergraduate students make most of the decisions when it comes to team operations, noted Josund.

"It really gives you a different perspective on the type of things you can do out in the professional world," Fiore said of the experience, which he called "life-changing."

Camping in the Australian Outback also isn't something most students get to do as part of a standard curriculum.

Stanford Solar Car 2015 by Flickr user SUSolarCar (Used under CC License)

Stanford Solar Car 2015 by Flickr user SUSolarCar (Used under CC License)

"We were so far from lights [that] we could see the stars," said Josund, "which were incredible."

Stanford's 2015 solar car was named Arctan, after Bryant Tan, a member of Stanford's 2013 solar-car team who died while traveling after graduation.

It competed in the Challenger Class--which features the highest performance, single-seater cars.

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While their sixth-place 2015 finish was lower than the team's placement in 2013, Stanford finished with a smaller gap between its car and the winner than the previous outing.

The Stanford team also achieved its own goal of a 10-percent efficiency improvement.

The next World Solar Challenge will take place in 2017, and Stanford will presumably be back to improve its performance even more.


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