Races in Oz- serious and not so…

Monday, 5 November 2007

Every two years the World Solar Challenge is held- this is an

event based on a competitive field of solar cars crossing the Australian continent powered by nothing but the sun. Teams are required to research, build and design vehicles capable of completing the 3000km journey from tropical Darwin in the Northern Territory, to cosmopolitan Adelaide in South Australia. [link]

This year the race was won- for the 4th consecutive time- by the Dutch team from Delft University, Nuon, with their car the Nuna 4

World Solar Challenge

The car traversed the 3010 km distance from Darwin to Adelaide purely on solar power. previous years competitions have established that these solar cars can travel as fast as normal cars so this year the requirements were changed to make the specifications closer to a normal family car.But this is not the real inspiration for this note on races; this is being written on the eve of the Melbourne Cup horse race- the race that stops a nation. One of the few countries that actually has a public holiday (in Melbourne, where the race is held) for a horse race. Sport and gambling come together in this race with bets being placed by almost every grown person in the country. Offices run their own pools and even in places where the day is not a holiday, all work comes to a standstill for the 3 and a half minutes or so that the race runs.

For the not so serious races, consider these:

The Henley-On-Todd Regatta, held in the town of Alice Springs in the red centre of Oz- is held on the banks of the Todd River to raise funds for charity. It’s been held annually since 1962, making the one to be held on 30 August this year the 46th race.

In 1962, Reg Smith and his compatriots at the Alice Springs Meteorological Bureau proposed they hold an actual regatta along the lines of the famous Henley-on-Thames, a race between Cambridge and Oxford Universities. The idea was taken up by the Rotary club of Alice Springs, and the fact that the town was 1,500 km’s from the nearest large body of water was never seen as a problem.

Yes, you read that correctly- the regatta is held on land on the very dry bed of the river Todd! Reading on, at their site:

Watching seemingly sane people race in bottomless “eights”, “oxford tubs”, “bath tubs” and yachts through the deep coarse sand of the Todd River provides an unique spectacle amongst world sporting events. The multi-event program attracts many local and international participants from the audience who often finish up on world TV news paddling canoes with sand shovels and in “land lubber” events like filling empty 44 gallon drums with sand.There are crazy bathtub races too and whole naval battles by, among
others, “Vikings” and “Pirates” crewing battle boats on truck’s
chassis, bristling with mortars and high pressure coloured water
cannons hurling flour bombs at their opponents. But if it rains and
there is water in the river, the boat race has to be cancelled.

Pictures of some participants in past years, here.

And then there are reports of annual goat races and wheelie bin races at a Lightning Ridge, an opal mining town in New South Wales!

From camels to Rolls Royces

Monday, 5 November 2007

It used to be a joke among those observing the rapid development of the Middle-East in the seventies and eighties that the oil states there had gone from camels to Rolls Royces in one generation.

In another conversation just last weekend, we were talking about how some things in India were far more modern than in some Western countries- the Delhi metro and mobile phones being examples- and that this was because of the leapfrogging effect of a later adoption of a technology. So, there’s often been a revolution rather than the evolution that the Western nations went through in their adoption.

So this, in an article by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times, did strike a chord:

So what should India do? It should leapfrog us, not copy us. Just as India went from no phones to 250 million cellphones — skipping costly land lines and ending up with, in many ways, a better and cheaper phone system than we have — it should try the same with mass transit.

His question in the first sentence relates to how India can reconcile its new found passion for the car with the congestion it already has on its roads.

He goes on to say that

India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions
to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions
for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for
itself and the world.

Now isn’t that a major shift in how India is perceived! She is seen now to have the ability to fix at least one of the worlds bigger problems using the ingenuity of its people. I think this is something that is only now becoming apparent to the world. I mean, think about it: China is usually heralded in the area of manufacturing technologies as being the low cost, efficient producer- largely on the basis of low labour costs. But already India is seen to be capable of making a difference not because of a labour cost arbitrage but by the use of its brainpower. I think this is a major milestone in how India is perceived in the world.