For three stages, Solar Team Twente was in the lead during the prestigious Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia, but a strong gust of wind abruptly ended the dream of Saxion's and University of Twente's students. Nevertheless, the team is proud of their achievements, says Emma van Geel from the back office.
Hey Emma, what happened exactly last night?
‘We started the fourth racing day at around eight o’clock Australian time, and shortly after the start our driver got blown off the road by a gust of wind. The car crashed into the embankment and flipped over. The most important thing is that the driver is OK. He went to the hospital to be checked, but only has a few scratches. It could have been far worse.’
What was the reaction here?
‘We and some former team members were watching the live stream on Vattenfall’s YouTube account and saw our team mates standing on the roadside. That’s when you hope they're just changing a wheel and you’re shocked if it turns out that it is more serious.’
You guys were also affected by the weather conditions yesterday. Had you taken that scenario into account?
‘We knew that the weather was not great and it was very windy; that became clear when we were setting up the camp. So we decided that it was up to our driver to decide how fast he wanted to drive. Safety really is the top priority. Unfortunately, we just had some really bad luck. We had heard that planes had also been grounded and lorries had jackknifed. It was really treacherous.’
How is the team’s mood?
‘Obviously we’ve been in touch with the team members a lot and they got a huge shock, but they're doing well. They're now going to a hostel down the road to spend the night and discuss how to proceed. We still want to cross the finish line in Adelaide, so the car is now being transported with a trailer to the next point, to see how we can fix it up.’
What was the mood like before the accident? You were in first position virtually from the beginning.
‘It was quite euphoric. It's true that we were in the lead for three days, and yesterday there was a great neck-and-neck race with Vattenfall during the final minutes. That made it interesting and exciting, and their team’s overtaking manoeuvre was fantastic. Our prospects for winning were great, so that makes it even harder to swallow.’
Statements of support came flooding in online, also from the major competitor Vattenfall. What was your relationship with them like?
‘Incredibly sporting. We were in touch with them after the accident and also liaised with them about the coverage. The teams show respect for each other. Warm wishes came in from all sides.’
What will happen now?
‘The finish is on Thursday, of course, and the final ceremony will be held on Sunday. After that, it's a matter of packing the car and putting it on the transport box to the Netherlands. The team will then go on holiday in Australia and most will come back mid November. The whole team often gathers in December, including us from the back office team.’
How are you feeling now?
‘We’re proud regardless. Anyone who has seen the images can see how well the car was doing. So we’re very happy that we built such a stable and safe car, one that allowed the driver to escape the accident like this. And of course, we're very proud of the performance we have delivered over the past three days.’