When we think of electric cars, we are more often attracted to the environmental benefits and trouble-free quiet driving trips for which they are so ideal. However, electric vehicles can also offer glaring performance, mainly due to their instantaneous torque, which gives them a big boost over internal combustion vehicles.
In recent years, this has led to various independent and manufacturer-supported efforts taking over some of the classic events in motorsport. Today we look at a handful of recent recordings that look at one of the most grueling events in motorsport – Pikes Peak International Hillclimb.
For the uninitiated, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, also known as The Race To The Clouds, is a highway event leading to Pikes Peak Mountain in Colorado. The 12.42-mile course is a twisted strip of asphalt that rises more than 14,000 feet above sea level. (The road used to be dirty, before environmental concerns led to a gradual paving in recent decades.) The course is known for its insidious waste, which has taken many lives over the years, as well as the famous Climbing a dance short film which depicts Ari Vatanen climbing the mountain during the 1988 event in his Peugeot 405 T16 turbo.
The relatively short climbing distance is suitable for electric vehicles, which are less capable of longer events involving multiple laps due to battery storage limitations. The narrow, winding stroke also allows electric vehicles to take advantage of low-class torque and, in most cases, no need to shift gears. In this way, it is possible to build a relatively light electric vehicle with a large enough range to complete the Pikes Peak course on a full charge and be competitive with the time set by the internal combustion rivals.
The event races a long history of electric cars, with one of the first participants being Joe Ball in 1981, completing the course in just over 32 minutes at Sears Electric Car – albeit more than twice the time spent on typical petrol fuels. competitors. The first electric entry, breaking the 20-minute barrier, was based on the Honda Civic Shuttle, piloted by Katie Endicott in 1994 with a time of 15: 44.710. Legendary driver Nobuhiro Tajima was the first to break the ten-minute barrier of the now paved run in 2013, with a time of 9: 46.530 in his specially created E-RUNNER Pikes Peak Special.
In recent years, competition has intensified significantly as electric vehicle technology has advanced to the point of creating a real challenge for competitors with internal combustion. With high-efficiency engines, batteries capable of delivering huge currents, and charging technology capable of keeping the car running all day, the tide at Pikes Peak has begun to reverse.
For the first time, the race was won by an electric car, with Reese Milen behind the wheel of a personalized electric racer, but it would be several more years before the absolute course record was broken by EV. The time came in 2018, when Romain Dumas piloted Volkswagen’s IDR to a scorching 7: 57,148 up the mountain, overshadowing the 8-minute barrier for the first time. Pikes Peak is today one of the first major motor sports to hit the march of the electric vehicle.
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Performing a Pikes Peak race is no feat, regardless of the drive. There is a lot of racing engineering going on in terms of proper suspension adjustment, air balance and to ensure that tire temperatures are optimized for the track surface and ambient conditions. Combine these with a world-class racing driver and you might shoot the title. But when it comes to driving an electric vehicle, there are several unique challenges that need to be overcome.
After all, Pikes Peak is a mountain and is not very well equipped to supply huge electric currents to custom racing cars with empty batteries. In this way, teams must find a way to provide their own electricity.
In the case of a car such as the Volkswagen ID.R, a giant generator was used, leaking glycerol for cleaner emissions to avoid spoiling the environmental qualities of the exercise. Charging is done at speeds up to 90 kW and is completed in 20 to 30 minutes. This fast charging capability is required for a car racing on Pikes Peak due to the potential short turnaround time between racetracks. To avoid overheating the batteries, the batteries are actively cooled by the fans in the pit area. Getting started with hot batteries can compromise their current power, so performance is key to keeping them cool.
It is also important to carefully consider the size of the car’s batteries. Unlike a liquid fuel car, which can be refueled heavier or lighter depending on the exact amount of fuel needed to run, the electric car must carry the full weight of its batteries at all times.
Interchangeable or modular packages are possible, but they can bring penalties for efficiency due to loss of power in the connectors. Ideally, the package will be large enough to complete a run before running too low to avoid the need for the car to carry excess weight, which negatively affects performance. A great example of the battery weight dilemma is the Palatov D2EV, which took place at the event in 2019. Set a mileage of 300 miles on the street instead of a pure performance of climbing a height of 12.42 miles, the car had to carry an additional 500 kg of batteries up the mountain, which damages the steering and dulls the acceleration.
Other problems in the mountains affect all competitors equally. Rain, snow or strong winds are dangerous for any vehicle on the route. There is also the constant threat of simply slipping off the mountain, as the guardrails are few and far between. Competitors have faced these dangers for decades, and an electric vehicle or not will not disappear soon.
The simple fact is that delivering torque to electric vehicles is a huge advantage in performance situations. The main thing that prevents electric vehicles from dominating more forms of motorsport is the limitation of battery technology, which prevents them from competing in longer events such as rallies or multi-lap races. Remove this obstacle or just race somewhere, no matter how Pikes Peak, and suddenly the electric vehicle comes to dominate the legendary previous internal combustion engine. As technology continues to improve, expect to see the same story told around the world of motorsport.