By Jonathan Gault
September 7, 2016
Considering that the Olympic Games are over, there’s been more than enough time in 2016 to determine who the best runners are at the various distances. What hasn’t been decided is who is better – man or machine?
We’ll find out on Friday at the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels – the last IAAF Diamond League track and field meet of the year – when Kenyan 800-meter runner Nicholas Kipkoech (1:43.37 sb, 4th in the Kenyan Olympic Trials 800) races against the Indupol One, a solar-powered car with a top speed of 110 kilometers/hour (68 miles per hour), in a 600-meter “Man Against Machine” race at 7:15 p.m. local time (1:15 p.m. ET).
On paper, pitting a Kenyan runner who averages just 17 miles per hour for 800 meters against a car that can travel almost four times that fast is a mismatch. But the Indupol One takes some time to warm up and reach cruising speed. The organizers decided on 600 meters for a distance “because we would lose a 400m and win an 800m,” according to Joachim Verheyen, manager of the Punch Powertrain Solar Team, a team of students at the University of Leuven that built the car.
This isn’t some remote-control car. It’s a 1.7m by 4.7m (5.5′ x 15.5′) vehicle that will be piloted by professional driver Bert Longin. The Indupol One has completed much longer races in the past — it was built for the 2013 World Solar Challenge, an 1,878-mile race through the Australian Outback. Indupol One finished sixth overall in the Challenger class, completing the distance in 40 hours, 28 minutes (average speed: 46 miles per hour). So the Indupol One is a marathoner, not a sprinter: think Eliud Kipchoge stepping down to the 600.
Kipkoech has a personal best of 1:15.87 for 600, set last year in Amsterdam, but after his breakout this season he figures to be slightly faster than that. To prevail against the Indupol One, he’ll have to measure his effort correctly and rely on his advantages (running corners should be easier for a professional runner) to carry him to victory.
Talk about the race on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB: Who you got in the Man vs. Machine grudge match? Kenyan 800 ace to race solar-powered car in Brussels DL finale!!