Sunday was the 10th annual REFUEL Race at Laguna Seca International Raceway – a chance for electric car or motorcycle drivers/riders to test their stuff on a world-class race track. While it’s a low-key track day event run by a local racing instruction school, the REFUEL race has seen a few important events in its time. The fact that REFUEL exists, that there are enough electric cars and motorcycles on the road to make a credible racing event, is itself a significant advance in the overall project of electrifying the transportation system.
This year around production drivers of electric vehicles – a Tesla Model 3 and a Zero SR electric motorcycle – beat long-standing speed records at Laguna Seca International Raceway.
Ten years ago at the first REFUEL race – back in 2009 – the cars were nearly 100% home built conversion cars. The Nissan Leaf had not even been announced at that point, that was to come a few weeks later in August 2009. The only production electric car on the market at that time was the Tesla Roadster, and there were at least 6 in attendance. By 2012 production electric cars were starting to take over, and the first Model S’s had just been delivered to customers, and a few participated in REFUEL. In 2013, the Tesla Model S’s had pretty much taken over the car portion of REFUEL, and the electric motorcycles were led by professional motorcycle racers who used REFUEL to prepare for the FIM e-Power electric motorcycle race a few weeks later.
This time around we had the first appearance of the Tesla Model 3, beating the standing lap speed record. And, we saw the standing electric motorcycle record broken — sort of.
The most stand-out feature of this years REFUEL was the large number of electric motorcycle riders participating. It felt as if the electric car crowd was smaller than years before, but the motorcyclist field was much larger than previously. It’s largely thanks to the efforts of Zero Motorcycles in, first by staying in business when other electric motorcycle companies folded, and even more importantly to keep on improving their bike year after year. We should mention that a couple Energica motorcycles were also present. Energica is an electric motorcycle manufacturer from Italy who will be giving Zero a good run for its money over the coming years.
Enough of the explanation – let’s talk about results
Tesla Model 3 beats Model S’s, Roadsters, and the standing record
One story over REFUEL’s history is the competition for electric car lap speed.
In 2011, Joe Nuxoll set a lap speed record of 1 min 50.883 secs, driving a Tesla Roadster outfitted with racing tires.
In 2012, the first year of the Model S’s, the REFUEL organizers defined the PRODUCTION GT class for the faster electric cars like the Tesla Model S, and a PRODUCTION class for the normal electric cars. The fastest Production GT car was a Tesla Model S driven by Sean Wheeler, lap speed 1 min 51.832 secs, and Aaron Bailey was not far behind with 1 min 52.774 secs.
In 2013, Joe Nuxoll returned to defend his record. By the way, while Nuxoll works as a software engineer and user experience designer, he is also a racing instructor, so he knows a thing or two about driving at high speed on a track. Aaron Bailey was at the time a Tesla employee working on suspension, so he surely has some inside knowledge about setting up the car. Nuxoll, driving a Roadster (with racing tires) set a lap speed of 1 min 48.935 secs, beating his previous record. But, Bailey drove a touch faster, claiming the track record with a 1 min 48.917 secs time, or about .02 seconds faster. The next fastest Tesla Model S, driven by Robin Shute, had a lap time of 1 min 50.898 secs, nearly beating Nuxoll’s time from 2011.
Clearly when Elon Musk boasts that Tesla does not build slow cars, he means it.
In 2014, Joe Nuxoll returned with a Tesla Roadster intending to reclaim the record. His time, 1 min 49.018 seconds was very respectable but not enough to take back the record. He did beat the rest of the field pretty handily.
In 2015, Joe Nuxoll returned again with a Tesla Roadster, but the 1 min 49.322 secs was still not enough to take back the record.
Fast forward to 2018 … and the record is now broken …
In retelling the results above, I had skipped over a few full-on race cars that came to REFUEL. For example in 2012 the fastest electric car was a full-on race car, built on a race car chassis, by Kleenspeed Motors, with a 1 min 32.046 secs lap time. This year the fastest car was a race car, built on a Radical chassis, with a 1 min 36.716 secs lap time. These are impressive numbers, however what I’ve been discussing is the competition among drivers of regular cars.
We see two cars in the Production GT class, David Lickfold with a 1 min 47.621 secs lap time, and Cameron Rogers with a 1 min 48.667 secs lap time. I know that Cameron Rogers was driving a Tesla Model 3, and I do not know what David Lickfold was driving. Both are faster than the standing record.
A Tesla Model 3 has beat a long-standing lap time record set previously by a Tesla Roadster driven by a racing instructor, and by a Tesla Model S driven by a Tesla employee.
Cameron Rogers changed to racing slicks, changed the brakes, made a few settings adjustments in the car, and disconnected a couple sensors. Electrek has some details.
According to Electrek, David Lickfold is a Lucid Motors employee working on chassis and vehicle dynamics, and was driving a Tesla Model S P100D. Lucid would be interested in benchmarking performance of vehicles made by their competition.
The #4 result is a very interesting conversion car. Micah Bayless is a Zero Motorcycles employee, and built a Porsche 914 conversion using parts from Zero. It used six Zero electric motors bolted together to a common shaft that then bolted to the regular Porsche transaxle. The six motors required six SEVCON controllers. The car was powered by either 2 or 3 of the regular Zero battery packs that would normally be used on electric motorcycles. With this setup, he (actually, his brother was driving) produced an excellent lap time of 1 min 51.210 secs.
Micah explained to me he designed the conversion so the bracket holding all the motors can be manufactured, and it can be easily mounted in any vehicle using that same transaxle. Meaning, any of the old-school VW’s or Porsche’s could have this conversion and be highly competent race vehicles.
Joe Nuxoll was at REFUEL with a Tesla Model 3, but he spun out in turn 2 and did not finish. That was captured on video by Jack Brown, another long-time REFUEL participant who was driving a Tesla Model S P85.
As of this writing the REFUEL team has not released official results, and in particular has not published what kind of car was used by each entrant.
Most of these are Zero’s, with the Zero SR being the most likely. Brandon Nozaki-Miller was riding an Energica electric motorcycle, after having ridden Zero’s for several years. Kenyon Kluge, Brian Wismann, and Ryan Biffard are Zero employees.
The existing track records are:
- Production: Trevor Doniak, riding a Zero SR in 2017, 1 min 50.146 secs lap time
- For Prototype bikes there are two entries.
- Shane Turpin, 2014, 1 min 31.634 secs lap time – I believe he was riding a Brammo Empulse RR
- Eric Bostrom, 2013, 1 min 38.502 secs lap time – Brammo Empulse RR
Both Shane Turpin and Eric Bostrom are top professional motorcycle racers. In that time period there was an electric motorcycle racing series, with Brammo in the top tier (alongside Lightning Motorcycles and MotoCzysz).
Going by the recorded results, we see that up to 2016 the top motorcycles (other than the prototype bikes) had lap times around 1 min 52 seconds. Such as Jamie Perugie’s 1 min 52.668 secs time in 2016 on a Zero SR.
In 2017, Trevor Doniak broke that barrier, and then in 2018 he broke his previous record for a 1 min 46.870 lap time record.
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