Green Cars Making Their Mark In Motorsports

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Midwest Energy News. Author credit goes to Kevin Clemens.

Hybrid and electric vehicles are not necessarily renowned for their performance, but this summer, competitors in one of the country’s oldest motorsports events are hoping to turn that perception on its head.

An uphill battle

This summer, at the 90th running of the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, seven of the almost 200 entries will run on electricity.

Last year, two electric cars challenged the 12.42-mile course — a Nissan Leaf in the stock production category and a highly modified 268-horsepower two-wheel drive electric racer driven by Japanese driver Ikuo Hanawa setting a new class record of 12 minutes, 20.1 seconds.

Nissan Leaf Pikes Peak

image via Nissan

In addition, Chip Yates took his 240-horsepower homebuilt electric superbike to a record time of just under 13 minutes, smashing the old electric motorcycle record by more than four minutes.

Testing ground

The Pikes Peak Hillclimb was first run in 1916 and quickly established itself as a testing ground for the automobile industry. It is the second oldest race in the U.S. after the Indianapolis 500. The course starts at 9,390 feet above sea level and finishes 156 turns later at the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,110 feet.

(This year’s race, originally scheduled for July 8, has been postponed because of wildfires in the area, and a new date has yet to be announced.)

The current overall record was set last year by Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima in his twin-engine Suzuki SX4 at 9:51.278 — the first driver ever under 10 minutes on the course. It was the Japanese driver’s sixth consecutive win at Pikes Peak.

The 62-year old Tajima will be back this year, but he is forsaking a gasoline-powered racecar for one that is powered by electricity. Tajima’s Monster Sport E-RUNNER Pikes Peak Special has a lightweight carbon-fiber body and is driven by two electric motors and powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries produced by Mitsubishi.

The electric advantage

Electric vehicles have at least two advantages over gasoline-powered racing cars at the Hillclimb. Because the course gains 4,720 feet from start to finish, the reduction in air pressure with elevation gain results in a 30 percent loss in performance for conventional engines. The finish is so high that many drivers use supplemental oxygen to help them breathe at the dizzying heights.

Batteries and electric motors, however, are unaffected by the altitude, producing the same power at the summit as they do at the starting line. In addition, because electric cars produce maximum torque at low motor speeds, they don’t require a transmission with multiple gear changes. A conventional gasoline racer requires as many as 120 gear changes on the hill. If each change takes a quarter of a second, there is more than 30 seconds of time when the car is not being powered against the force of gravity. Electric cars never shift and thus can save that time.

Midwest Energy News, launched in 2010, is a nonprofit news site dedicated to keeping stakeholders, policymakers, and citizens informed of the important changes taking place as the Midwest shifts from fossil fuels to a clean energy system.