This is an interesting week bracketed by several electric vehicle races. You may be thinking electric vehicles are slow boring golf carts that can’t possibly be good at racing, and if so there are a number of EV fanatics working to destroy that stereotype. Fortunately for this cause the founders of Tesla Motors knew they had to blow up that stereotype in order to have success, and their first car is demonstrative proof that electric vehicles do not have to be the slow boring NEV’s. The key enabler to this is advances in battery chemistry, specifically work to develop powerful lithium ION based battery packs capable of powering race vehicles. (for a slideshow of the vehicles, scroll all the way to the bottom of this page)
On July 19, 2009 Speed Ventures sponsored the Refuel Races at the Laguna Seca race track, billing it as an alternative vehicle demonstration. Attending the event were perhaps three dozen electric vehicles. These included two outright race cars, one named Snow White (built by Bob Schneeveis) has a long history behind it, while the other was newly built by Kleenspeed, a company based in Silicon Valley. Various other vehicles were there including one of the tZero prototypes built by AC Propulsion, a converted Porsche, a couple converted cars built by SSI Racing, several go-karts, and many motorcycles. Among the motorcycles was a bike intended by Electric Motorsports to be their Pro Class entry at the TTXGP race in June. Another was a prototype electric motorcycle by Patmont Motor Works. Oh, and there were 7 Tesla Roadsters in the lineup, at least one driven by a Tesla employee, the others driven by Tesla owners.
On July 24-25, 2009, the Wayland Invitational drag race (sanctioned by National Electric Drag Racing Association) will be held at the Portland International Raceway. Early news is that several Tesla Roadsters will be at that race as well. NEDRA is an NHRA sanctioned drag racing organization who has been organizing drag race events since 1998. That same weekend in Ohio will be the American debut of the eGrandPrix racing series which were inaugurated by the TTXGP race held in June. This is open to electric motorcycles and will be held as part of AMA’s Vintage Motorcycle Days race at the Mid-Ohio race track in Lexington Ohio.
About Tesla’s on the race track. The soul of the Tesla Roadster is in racing being built on a car body made by sports car manufacturer Lotus Engineering. As a result the Tesla Roadsters did extremely well on the track and looked totally awesome whooshing by at high speed. The proper word here is whooshing, not roaring. The drivers turned in lap times in the neighborhood of 2 minutes, with a couple coming in faster than 2 minutes. These lap times are not as fast as the regular race cars normally driving at Laguna Seca, but is very good for a car whose primary design goal is use on city streets. As a consequence the Roadsters could go at full throttle for about two laps before going into a limited power mode. It was explained that while these cars have motor and battery cooling systems appropriate for street and highway use, the systems are insufficient for race use and that the limited power mode is there to protect motor and battery from overheating.
Laguna Seca is a scenic track snaking along a rugged California hillside. This made for a different racing format than the drag races. Instead of a one way blastoff down a straight track this was a test not only of raw speed but handling, maneuvering, acceleration, deceleration, and driver skill. More than one car, even the Tesla’s, went off the track unable to make some of the turns.
One may ask how green it is to take an EV to the race track. Shouldn’t EV owners be staying at home tending our granola farms in the back yard? While some EV owners might fit that stereotype, it doesn’t fit the majority of us. Some EV owners are also speed fanatics as you will learn attending any EV race. It is the slow boring ugly golf cart stereotype which in part keeps EV’s from wide adoption. In the court of public opinion wider adoption of EV’s means destroying that image, therefore EV’s must go to the race track to demonstrate, test and prove the technology just as prior generations of vehicle technology have done so.
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