What constitutes epic? That's something that had us scratching our heads here at Yahoo! Cars for a while. The Le Mans 24 hours, Dakar Rally and Indy 500 could all be described as epic, as could the 12 hour British Lawn Mower Association race. Yes, seriously. But after much deliberation we narrowed it down to three events, one green, one pushing boundaries and the other just plain old fast. Very fast.
Global Green Challenge
Evolving from the World Solar Challenge, the Global Green Challenge is a race that taps into the current environmental zeitgeist. Running every second year since 1987, the race takes place in Australia. Competitors compete in either solar cars or green production and experimental vehicles across a course that crosses 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) of Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. Such has been the development of solar technology in recent years that the solar vehicles can cover that distance with an average speed in excess of 60mph.
They're not short of sun in Australia, making it the perfect place to run such an amazing race. It's gruelling for the drivers though, crammed into aerodynamically optimised machines under that baking sun with little or no ventilation. Winner of the 2009 event was the Tokai Challenger, an entry from Tokai University, Japan. Joining the solar vehicles this year were a number of production cars from manufacturers such as Ford, Honda, BMW, Skoda, Kia, Tesla and Suzuki, each trying to win the fuel consumption challenge. It's not a particularly fast race, nor is it likely to be fun under that glaring sun, but it's certainly epic.
DARPA Grand Challenge
As challenges go the DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge for a driverless vehicle is one of the toughest. It's also potentially one of the most lucrative, with the price money on the 2007 Urban Challenge $2m for first place, $1m for second and $500,000 for third position. The goal is to advance robotic development, with driverless vehicles having to undertake a number of challenges. The first event in 2004 required the driverless vehicles to negotiate a 150-kilometre route in the Mojave Desert. None of the vehicles managed the task in the first year.
The 2005 event was more successful, with five entrants finishing. That's quite an achievement, as the route contains some tricky bends, tough gradients and even a tunnel. Stanford University's contender - based on a Volkswagen Touareg (pictured) - won the 2005 event, completing the course in 6.54 hours. The 2007 event was brought into town and consequently challenges like traffic rules and other vehicles came into the mix. It was won by the Carnegie Mellon University entrant based on a Chevy Tahoe SUV. The 2007 DARPA race was the last, though we don't doubt there'll be something to replace it soon.
Open Road Racing
Do you ever dream of planting your foot to the floor and seeing just what your car will do? You can go to the autobahn in Germany if you like, but the Americans also offer a legal means of answering that troubling 'how fast' question. Open Road Racing is the only way to exceed 200mph on the road in America legally, with a handful of states closing their roads to run these unique high-speed events. Naturally they're attended by speed freaks in anything but standard road cars, but the spectacle of cars reaching and exceeding 200mph on public roads is phenomenal.
Unlike race tracks, drag strips or even areas like Bonneville's famous salt flats, the runners in Open Road Racing run their cars at high speed for sustained periods, the routes typically over 100 miles long. That's a tough test for any car and driver/navigator team. Everything runs from standard muscle and sports cars, classic racers, stock cars and exotics to specially built high-speed machines. A grass-roots form of enjoying your fast car, Open Road Racing is little known outside its small band of followers, which is just how they like it.