About five years ago, anyone who would see a hybrid, or even the less popular full electric car, would say that it looked very different that you either love or hate it. Hybrids also didn’t have much power to excite the senses and the electrics would not be able to go far without having to charge their batteries repeatedly.
In just a few years, however, electric and hybrid cars conquered a number of legendary international races and are even setting the standards for future design trends that people want to be seen in! This is definitely a big change for the better and we are very lucky to witness this evolution first-hand.
Here are some of the grand racing moments that have changed the way we look at race cars powered by alternative energy.
Hybrids are king
The much-loved Formula One and grueling Le Mans 24 Hours are the two best platforms to showcase the best engine technologies in racing. They would also be the first two series where turbo hybrids can win.
Since the 2.4-liter, V-8, all-motor, 18,000-rpm, F1 engines were replaced by the 1.6-liter, V-6, 15,000-rpm, turbo-charged with hybrid technology in 2014, the fans were all complaining of how muffled the new engines were and they missed the howl of the straining engines. The track owners even threatened to pull out if the FIA organizers didn’t do something to bring the sound back. It looked like F1 took a wrong turn and made the spectacle dull.
But, after a year, the turbos were allowed to have bigger exhaust pipes and the sound became bolder. After two more years, F1 cars were given more mechanical grip with wider tires, wings and chassis and the whole racing action blossomed. FIA also allowed the engine makers to redesign their turbo hybrid motors to catch the very dominant Mercedes-Benz team. Only a few diehards are complaining now.
In Le Mans’ top class, the Le Mans Prototype 1, car manufacturers had used this very challenging class to prove their future racing technologies that could trickle down to production cars. Audi had dominated the Le Mans 24 Hour race with 13 victories and won with diesel and hybrid engines that proved these were the way to go.
Sadly, Audi pulled out of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship series this year and would join Formula E, the pure electric formula series, which had gained much in its two years of existence.
Nevertheless, Porsche and Toyota had made up for the loss of Audi. Both made huge jumps in their turbocharged, hybrid, gasoline engines in the World Endurance Championship and Le Mans. The new Porsche technology had dominated this year’s event but Toyota came close to winning Le Mans last year, only to break down in the last five minutes of the race.
Pikes Peak evolving
For hardcore motors sports lovers, Pikes Peak will always be remembered for the 12.42 miles, 156-turn treacherous climb up the mountain pass. Also called the Race to the Clouds, it was a long and winding dirt road that had big drops and nothing to hold you if you go off the road.
I first saw my rally idol, Ari Vatanen, on a Peugeot T16 Pikes Peak special rally car win the event in 1988. His car had big wings, front and rear, and was always sliding near the edge of the road going up the pass. Sadly, by 2011, the whole road was affected with local problems and these helped produce faster times.
In the early 1980s, the first electric vehicles saw action and started a revolution. Finally, a full electric eO PP3 race car in the hands of Rhys Millen took the overall win in 2015 and posted the second best time ever in the Peak’s history. The previous year saw second to fourth positions won by electric vehicles and from then on, there was a mad rush to develop electric vehicles for this event.
The main reason for electric vehicles’ surge is the climb of 1,440 meters, from start to finish. The air is so thin at the finish that normal engines lose much power even halfway through the climb. With electric vehicles, there was no change in power and they had so much torque that some cars don’t even have gears to climb the mountain! Now that is really going to be a great power train for a climb to Baguio, the Cordillera and the Sierra Madre.
With Formula E being the premiere showcase of how electric racing can be, a lot of other events are considering electric classes in the future. The Global Rallycross Championship will have an Electric Class in 2018 and Moto GP will have a support class for electric bikes in 2019. There are a lot more, including drag racing, karting and off-road races that are already running electric-powered machines.
These are just some of the races that are now dominated by the new electric and hybrid technologies. They have seen the future of increased efficiency that translates to bigger horsepower with lower or no fuel consumed. Also for electrics, no harmful emissions are emitted and that will save our Mother Earth.
All in all, racing is the ultimate winner as our passion is now secure with better and faster technologies that will translate to harder and closer racing action. Long live alternative energy-powered race cars and here’s to a brighter racing future!