Japanese team wins Australian solar car race

CANBERRA Thu Oct 20, 2011 7:23am EDT

Members of team Tokai from Japan celebrate after crossing the finish line of the World Solar Challenge race in Adelaide October 20, 2011. REUTERS/World Solar Challenge/Handout

Members of team Tokai from Japan celebrate after crossing the finish line of the World Solar Challenge race in Adelaide October 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/World Solar Challenge/Handout

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A team from Japan won a world solar car race through Australia's outback on Thursday, after battling more than 3,000 km (1,800 miles) of remote highways, dodging kangaroos and other wildlife and avoiding a bushfire.

Race officials said the team from Tokai University, near Tokyo, finished the race from the northern city of Darwin to the southern city of Adelaide at about noon on Thursday.

The teams set off on Sunday.

The Nuon Solar Car Team from the Netherlands came second, while a U.S. team from the University of Michigan finished third.

Nuon's driver Javier Sint Jago said he had to avoid a bushfire, wallabies, cattle, sheep and lizards on his marathon drive, although the biggest challenge was to fight the strong winds which buffeted his 140 kg (300 lb) vehicle.

"It was pretty rough. The side winds were 50 to 60 km an hour (30-40 mph), and can easily push you off the side," he said.

"It was just so much concentration."

Thirty-seven cars from 21 countries started off in Darwin, heading south and using only the power generated by the sun in the 11th running of the annual race.

High-tech solar cars use public highways on the trek, with teams camping out by the road overnight as their cars run out of power after dark.

Along the way, they dodge other traffic, as well as kangaroos, camels and other wildlife wandering the outback deserts.

This year's race was made more dangerous by bushfires in the remote Northern Territory, which forced some cars to stop racing on Tuesday and camp out at a police roadblock as the fires crossed the highway, 300 km north of the central town of Alice Springs.

One car from the Philippines burst into flames early in the race when its battery exploded. No team members were injured, the fire was extinguished and the car resumed the race with a replacement battery pack.

The race is a favourite for university teams and researchers looking for new green sources of energy to fuel cars.

(Reporting by James Grubel, editing by Elaine Lies and Ron Popeski)

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