Maxime Croft, driver of Vattenfall NunaX: “It doesn’t matter if you work with men or women, just do something you love to do”
Unfortunately at the beginning of this week we learned that the solar-powered car Vattenfall NunaX has caught on fire and could not finish the race. Before the race started, we spoke to one of its drivers: Maxime Croft. A fearless female. As we find her truly inspiring, we would like to share our interview with you. Please bare in mind that this was before the race. We are happy no one got injured when the accident occurred.
Do you already have solar panels on your roof? Do you ever consider what is possible with this tech? Maxime Croft does. She is not only structural engineer for the NunaX, a solar-powered vehicle for the Vattenfall Solar team: she is also the driver. “With NunaX we want to show that it is possible to drive 3000 kilometers through the outback of Australia, purely on the power of the sun.”
Vattenfall Solar Team
Maxime does not do that alone. Other women in the team are Maud Diepeveen (team leader), Elke Salzmann (Electrical Engineer) and Emie Klein Holkenborg (PR & Partnerships). “All team members, including the women of the team, come from all kinds of different disciplines. Before I started the Vattenfall Solar Team, I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at TU Delft. Here I gained a lot of prior knowledge about, for example, the software programs, about the calculation of materials and how to design.
During my year in the team, everything comes together in practice. ” “The Vattenfall Solar Team consists of 16 students from TU Delft, each with its own position. Together we participate in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia. This is a solar race of 53 teams from all over the world who cover 3000 kilometers in Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. The first to cross the finish line wins the world title. ”
That is a tough race, but Maxime is very driven. “My job as a structural engineer is to design and build the structural part of the solar car, or the chassis. Together with my teammates, we have paused our studies for 14 months to develop this car, the NunaX. Although this would be the tenth car of our team, we started with a white sheet of paper. We started all over again with the design, but of course with the learnings of earlier vehicles. During the year I designed Nuna and performed strength calculations in various design programs. Our goal was to make NunaX as light and as strong as possible. Because more material in many cases provides a stronger structure, this was often a difficult decision. ”
When the students had finished all the computer work, five team members moved to Zwolle for three months. NunaX was built up layer by layer at the Polymer Science Park, close to project partner Aliancys. “It is fantastic to work with NunaX with a group like this. Everyone has gradually become an expert in his or her field. We have studied the technology and then combined the various disciplines to build the best possible solar car. I learned that I really enjoy designing in a team. ”
In that design process, our potential TechGirl of the Month used software such as CATIA and ANSYS. “These programs are used in the integral design of the car. You can imagine that we have to take a lot of account of the other disciplines within the team. If I design the body of NunaX, then of course all its other parts have to fit into it.
To make NunaX as light and strong as possible, its body is made entirely of carbon fiber. We first had to make the shape of NunaX in 1: 1 scale molds. The carbon fiber is then processed with many special tools and materials. Never before have I developed anything in this way. It was very special to see how NunaX, designed on the computer, started to become a real solar car during the production phase. ”
But this is not just a matter of creating a beautiful design. The solar car must reach that 3,000 kilometers in the outback on solar power alone. “During the year we try to reach as many people as possible with our project. For example, we visit all our former elementary or secondary schools of team members to talk about NunaX, the race, and sustainable energy.”
“In Australia we are working on NunaX at a primary school, it is very nice to see how enthusiastic everyone gets from our solar car! Plus, everyone from our team wants to be the first to cross the line in Adelaide with NunaX, just like me, and in this way bring the world championship back to the Netherlands! ”
Is there anything that Maxime is very proud of? “During the production phase in Zwolle, we worked days and nights to complete the carbon fiber body of NunaX on time. When the final layer was finally made, I was so very proud of everyone on the team. As a team we had done our best for 3 months to make the body of our solar car as perfect as possible. We paid attention to every gram of material, every detail was well finished and the part was not perfect, we fabricated it again. Meanwhile in Delft the other parts were made in the same way, which would later be put in the body. Everyone on the team has done his or her best, a fantastic feeling. ”
Hidden Valley circuit
But shouldn’t Maxime also be proud of its own racing performance as a driver? “Yes, a fantastic moment was when I first drove our self-built solar car. A highlight was training at the Hidden Valley circuit in Darwin. This is similar to Circuit Zandvoort and the qualifying track before the start of the race. There we could really show how well NunaX drove and how fast we can! “A tough woman, although Maxime hardly notices that she is a female driver in a world with mainly men at the wheel:” If you do something you do yourself likes it, it doesn’t matter if you work with many men or many women. Everyone is passionate about his or her position, that is what is important. “
However, Maxime must be good at collaborating, because there are a lot of people working on such a hugely ambitious project. “We are a self-managing team and no one tells us what and how we should do something. That works very well, but it also means that you also have to solve problems with the team. We had to make many choices throughout the year. The only support we had was the advice of alumni. They occasionally come by to see how it goes. But in the end it is important that you make a choice that you fully support! “