An EV took on the petrol cars in a motor race. This is what happened
- A team of volunteers raced an EV against petrol cars as a challenge
- The EV won its category, and came 10th overall
- Some say petrol cars will be a novelty in racing within 10 years
The first year Jurgen Lunsmann raced an electric vehicle against a field of “petrolheads” at the Targa West motor rally in Perth, he put up with 200 jokes about extension cords.
“The next year, it was close to 100 jokes,” he said.
But last weekend, when the car topped a category of petrol-powered cars in the Targa West “tarmac rally”, he didn’t hear any.
The Toceva Racing team’s Tesla Model 3 finished first in the Targa165 category and tenth overall, beating about 50 competitors.
It was the only electric vehicle (EV) in the rally, which involves short stages adding up to about 1,000km over four days.
EVs are particularly ill-suited to this type of racing, where there’s no access to fixed chargers.
But this is exactly why the team of volunteers and EV enthusiasts took up the challenge.
‘We don’t know anyone doing this kind of rallying in Australia’
The car that raced belongs to Jon Edwards, a retired oil and gas engineer who has become an advocate for EVs.
In motor racing, Mr Edwards saw a chance to introduce EVs to “diehard petrolheads”.
“We’re in a group of diehard petrolheads and a lot of them are never going to change, but a few of them are very interested,” he said.
“We don’t know of anyone who’s doing this kind of EV rallying in Australia.”
Targa West has three broad categories, with speed limits of 130kph, 165kph and 200kph respectively.
Last year, Toceva Racing won this first 130km/h category.
At road-legal speeds, Mr Lunsmann says the EV racer is almost unbeatable — EVs are able to accelerate faster than combustion vehicles, as power goes straight to the wheels, rather than through a transmission.
But at speeds above 135kph, it chews through huge amounts of charge; wind resistance goes up rapidly as speed increases.
“Our consumption goes through the roof,” Mr Edwards said.
“At 200kph we use 2.5 per cent of our battery per kilometre.”
In categories with faster speeds, the team believed the car would not be able to recharge fast enough to complete the rally.
Their petrol-powered competitors could use jerry cans, which store vast amounts of energy that can be decanted in seconds.
The EV, by comparison, was recharging at a rate equivalent to about one cup of petrol per minute.
And so after last year’s race, they set about finding a solution — and Targa West gave them the perfect opportunity to experiment with different charging options.
“One of the barriers to the take up of electric vehicles is where [to] charge them,” Mr Edwards said, hopeful that finding a solution would increase uptake.
The motto: ‘Always be charging’
The rate at which an EV charges depends on the charging method.
A typical EV plugged into a household’s mains power supply could take 12 hours to charge, while one connected to a “supercharger” could take about 10 minutes.
A supercharger like that would be great for EV motor racing, but they’re not transportable enough for Targa West.
“The size and the costs get out of hand,” Mr Edwards said.
Instead, Toceva Racing cobbled together a fleet of “mobile charging units” that could each charge at a moderate rate.
These units included a truck-mounted diesel generator powered by waste vegetable oil; a truck-mounted EV battery; and a modified EV that could share energy from its own batteries.
With this solution, last weekend they braved the 165kph category.
The motto, Mr Lunsmann said, was “always be charging” — whenever the car was stationary, even for a few minutes, a unit would swoop in to add a few percentage points to the battery.
The strategy worked, and the team topped its category.
But the difficulty of the operation showed that petrol cars enjoy at least one advantage: the jerry can.
“The jerry can was a WWI invention and it’s still the prime way of getting energy to race cars at motorsport venues,” Mr Lunsmann said.
“With EVs at the moment, there’s not a simple solution.”
So are EVs the future of motor racing?
Opinions on this question are mixed; some such as Mr Lunsmann say they will only “slowly creep in” to racing.
“The behind-the-scenes challenges of racing an EV are quite significant,” he said.
“You have to throw a lot of energy into cars in a short space of time.”
But others, like Tim Possingham, the organiser of the Adelaide Motorsport Festival, think most racing cars will be EVs in 10 years’ time.
“Right now EVs are the novelty, but that’s going to flip,” he said.
Adelaide councils are keen to see this happen — it would mean quieter racing and fewer noise complaints from residents.
For the moment, however, no EVs have competed in the main race at the Adelaide Rally.
“Other than Toceva, no-one is doing tarmac rally,” Mr Possingham said, adding that he’d like Toceva to enter this November’s race.
The organisers of other motorsport racing series are also trying to increase EV participation.
Extreme-E is an off-road competition featuring custom-built electric SUVs racing in remote parts of the world.
It kicked off in April, with several Formula One drivers taking part.
There’s also an ongoing Formula E competition for single-seater EVs and an all-electric motorcyle world championship.
But Mr Edwards hasn’t made his mind up about whether the Toceva team will enter the Adelaide Motorsport Festival.
“We have to be absolutely sure we don’t go out there and make fools of ourselves,” he said.
“What I’m trying to do is win the hearts and minds of other competitors and the public, that these cars are real and very competitive.”
Mr Edwards said the Toceva team was, however, aiming to race an EV in the Targa West open category in coming years.
“With a bit of tweaking, we can come in the top five,” he said.
Either way, he’s not expecting any more jokes about extension cords.
Extracted from ABC