Al Unser Jr. is the type of top flight race car driver you’d expect doesn’t associate his name with just any fly by night idea. He takes his cars very seriously, knowing a finely tuned automobile makes all the difference when ripping around race tracks at extremely high rates of speed.
It is interesting therefore that Unser is now finding himself something of an electric car driver. He signed up with Zap, one of the world’s oldest electric vehicle companies, to drive this outfit’s Alias electric car in the on-going Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize (PIAXP). This contest is designed to find the next viable, super fuel efficient vehicles for consumers wanting greener driving choices. A variety of alternative vehicle teams are competing for a $10 million grand prize and a major spotlight moment which could see the winning vehicle gaining lots of prestige and perhaps some market share.
Unser took some time out from his busy schedule to chat with EarthTechling about his experiences driving the Alias, what he thinks of electric cars and if could ever see himself owning a vehicle like this. His answers have been edited for clarity.
EarthTechling (ET): What got you interested in wanting to drive an electric car?
Al Unser Jr: What really got me interested was that I saw the Alias online a few years ago in drawing form. I contacted Zap, thinking it was very a futuristic, sexy and practical car. I contacted them from the aspect of being curious when it would be available. What truly has me interested in electric cars is the addiction the world has on oil and that we need to get some alternative cars and fuels out there. The electric car is really the next progression in mainstream transportation. That was my main reasoning for contacting ZAP.
ET: What specifically interested you about ZAP?
Unser: As I said before, the simple aspect that the Alias is both futuristic and sexy. It looks definitely the way to go in the future. I just wanted to truly find out when it would be available to the consumer. It is within a year to two years of rolling off the production line, which makes it readily available in my life time to have one in my driveway.
ET: What has it been like driving the Alias?
Unser: First off, it was great to see it along from concept of an idea and a dream to an actual reality with this competition. For me to get to drive it in this competition was a great pleasure and honor. When I first got in the car what first stood out was how quiet it was – no noise whatever. Barely any wind noise. When putting it through the competition it handled extremely well. As a matter of fact it handled better than I thought a three wheel car would.
ET: How does this compare to the regular racing you do?
Unser: It is a whole different philosophy I guess but at the same time it runs along the lines of developing the automobile. With my whole racing career the object has been to develop the automobile [models for future use]. I had new race cars no one else had and that was one of the things I truly wanted. The X Prize Foundation has developed the future in automobiles, which is high efficiency. It has been a real honor to drive the Alas because it is the future of automobiles.
ET: Do you think you’d want to own an EV after this? Why or why not?
Unser: Yes I definitely want to own an EV. From what I saw with the completion and what I I’ve learned and so on I want it to be the Alias. It is formulated and calculated to be getting over 120 MPG. Something I definitely want parked in my driveway. [In terms of creature comforts] I want [a car like this] to have everything the industry has to offer – all of the latest GPS system, latest stereos, etc. Very excited about what the actual production car will have on the inside of it.