The mainstream automobile racing community, in spite of the assumed goal of pushing the limits of technology, has been slow to engage really new technology. One would think that with all the remarkable electric cars that have recently come to market that an electric entry would make sense. The motorcycle guys have shown incredible achievements in the last couple of years with electric competition bikes running at over 170 mph and beating some of their gas engine competitors.
In the past electric car competitions have been the domain of back yard experimenters running home brewed solutions with limited speed and range. More sophisticated solar racing events have been going on for 30 years like the Grand Solar Challenge across Australia. Think about that, 1877 miles across the Australian Outback on nothing but sunlight.
The Nuon team from the Netherlands won it’s 5th Bridgestone Grand Solar Challenge last year in 33 hours at an average speed of 57 miles per hour with no fuel of any kind. Miles per gallon equivalent? Infinity. Cost per mile to power? Zero. I’m not too sure about cost per mile to operate, it cost several million dollars to develop a solar racer and field a team for this event, even with unpaid student labor.
But these races don’t get the kind of attention that the Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1 circuits get. Certainly, if Tesla, and many others, have built electrics that are as fast as a Corvette, then there should be a way to make electric car racing fun, fast and exciting. From the Fiat 500e to the Jaguar C-X75 supercar, every major automaker has shown exotic performance cars and early production electric models. This would be a great public venue to show how quickly the technology is maturing and gain huge audience awareness of electric vehicle capability.
The auto racing community has been dominated by piston driven internal combustion systems. The technology is so narrow that gas turbines, Lear’s steam powered Tri-delta engine, any other form of mechanical engine has been eliminated from competition. This makes that basis for competition very narrow so all the teams have a common platform. But it certainly doesn’t encourage new or emerging technology.
Most adaptations of electric drives to automobiles have been in the form of large electric motors being bolted into the existing drivetrain of the vehicle. This will not lead to a good EV solution. The power transmission system of a combustion engine car is inefficient and tuned to the ICE itself. Electric motors do not have wind-up and power curves that resemble a combustion engine, so the combination will always lead to a poor result.
The weight problem is not helped either. The great advantage of electric powered vehicles is the opportunity to reduce weight and componentry. There is no need for a transmission, driveshaft, couplings, axles or differential. A 2 wheel electronic differential is a common feature of wheelchairs and has been for many years, suggesting a very simple approach to electric vehicle transportation. Many EV platforms have been built with 2 and 4 powered wheels with amazing performance.
More next week.