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A team of Ardingly College students has become the first ever European school to enter and complete the epic World Solar Challenge, a 3,000 km race across Australia’s so‑called Red Centre in a vehicle powered by the heat from the sun. After six gruelling days in a car designed and built by a team of over 100 school pupils in the last three years, they covered the course from Darwin to Adelaide and earned sixth place in their class.

“It’s a bit less cloudy than Sussex, where our school, Ardingly College is based” said a sweltering Matt Price (18) one of the five intrepid competitors, at the end of the mammoth journey. His team-mate James Price (no relation) said: “We’ve made it! It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all involved”.

The team has  balanced GCSEs, A Levels and the International Baccalaureate whilst working round-the-clock to build what has been described as “a phenomenal feat of engineering” – the creation of their own Cruiser class Solar Electric Vehicle (EV).

The modified Lotus 7 chassis was fitted with a custom-built composite shell and 24% efficient Silicon Photovoltaic solar panels. It needed to comply with 366 regulations, or risk exclusion from the world’s ultimate solar marathon.

The drivers faced all sorts of hazards on their 3,000 km trip, including  stability problems, a mechanical fire, being pulled over by the police and taking a wrong turn.

Ardingly’s drivers were Mechanics Manager Holly Hill (17), from Houston, Texas; Media Manager James Price (18), Luke Smith (18) and Henry Hinder (18), all from Sussex. Team Manager Matt Price (17), also from Sussex, completed the support team. A BBC reporter followed the team and reported on their success on Newsbeat and BBC’s technology programme, Click.

The Ardingly Solar project received over £100,000 worth of financial and practical support from industry and sponsors. These include DHL, McLaren, GTR, Time24, Elekta, NTCadcam and Lincoln Binns, whose CEO John Binns has been the team’s ‘Mentor in Industry’. The students themselves had to approach companies and win the sponsorship. Ardingly’s Head of Science and project supervisor, Dr Andrew Spiers, says the three-year task transported industry into the classroom, helped pupils recognise the imperatives of sustainable transport, understand the importance of green technologies, learn above and beyond the curriculum, acquire new skills in business, design and manufacture and, above all, “it has empowered students to make a difference”.