Is it entertainment or engineering? Car races are a huge deal in the US and around the world. It’s fun to see how fast we can make our machines go. The Indy 500 and Formula 1 racing, attract massive crowds and millions of dollars of investment. Drag racers compete to drive the fastest quarter mile and street racers put heart and soul in their machines to squeeze all the performance they can out of smaller block engines. Hollywood has glorified all these racing forms in movies like “Fast and Furious” and “Days of Thunder”.
So it is with all our favorite technologies. Gaming computers with water cooling jackets and high resolution video drivers. High end audio and video components. We love to push the envelope of technology, especially our favorite technology.
Interestingly the car and motorcycle world have been finding electric powered versions making serious strides in performance and setting new land speed records routinely. The official land speed record for a 4 wheel vehicle is 151 miles per hour, and there have been unsanctioned electric speed runs at over 175 miles per hours. Motorcycle speed records are keeping pace (pun intended).
How do we drive (sorry) technology? Does racing make better electric cars and motorcycles? The history of conventional auto racing is all about improving the technology. The emerging car companies of the early 1900’s set up public events and competitions, probably in an effort to help market the new technology. Racing provides the somewhat controlled circumstances that allow car companies to push their products to the limit and see how they perform. This is a great learning experience and invariably provides great input for improving the product.
Is electric vehicle racing going to provide the same benefit? That question is a little more complicated. The “public event” aspect of the mature world of racing has become somewhat of an industry unto itself. This is largely entertainment. The high technology part doesn’t relate as well to consumer vehicles.
On the basis that electric vehicle racing is not as dangerous, it may not attract the same fan base as combustion engine racing. Let’s face it, the speeds are much slower. Electric motor cycle racing at 100 miles an hour is certainly faster than I want to go. But it may not be able to compete with mainstream motorcycle competitions at 200 miles an hour.
Pure solar racing has been going on for 15 years and it has produced a number of graduates who have the skills that will make battery electric and hybrid vehicles work. That was one of the goals of GM funding the race. It has definitely worked and it has definitely provided a major venue for advancing the technology and promoting the public’s attention.
So I say, we should keep promoting all the activities we can that will create technical advancement and public awareness. It’s all about performance.