Electric times for iconic motorsport events
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Providing a contrast to the dedicated electric Formula E single-seater series, two of the oldest motorsport events in the world also provide a stage for manufacturers seeking to showcase electric drive performance.
The Isle of Man TT motorcycle races that began in 1907 and the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb at Colorado Springs, USA — first held in 1916 — provide competition for electric vehicles and a chance to benchmark performance and technology against conventional machines.
The efforts of Volkswagen Motorsport will put the spotlight on electric competition at the 96th running of the Pikes Peak event this year while electric racing at the Isle of Man will mark its first decade.
Volkswagen’s new prototype racer that will challenge for the electric car record at the Pikes Peak on June 24 is now up and running.
The car — which is called Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak — recently completed its first laps at the racetrack in Ales Cevennes, France with Frenchman Romain Dumas — a three-time Pikes Peak outright winner — at the wheel.
‘‘It was absolutely fantastic to see the completed I.D. R for the first time, and to take it out for its first spin,’’ said Dumas, who is also a two-time winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
‘‘What Volkswagen has managed to put together from scratch over the past few months has my greatest respect. I had obviously seen initial pictures of the car – but it is even more spectacular in the flesh.’’
The spectacular prototype features a twin-engine powertrain developing an estimated 500kW and uses lithium-ion batteries as the energy storage system. The high demand on the battery cells means that power density is the crucial factor for the system when producing high voltage. Unlike in the manufacturing of production vehicles, the goal of the motorsport engineers was not maximum range, but the highest possible power output on the way to the Pikes Peak summit.
As well as the battery energy available at the start of the run, Volkswagen says the car will generate roughly 20 per cent of the electric energy required during the 20km drive using energy recovery. When braking the electric engines will operate as generators to convert some of the braking energy into electricity and feed this into the battery.
Romain Dumas with the Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak electric prototype. Photo / Supplied
Among the challenges facing Volkswagen is the difficulty in replicating the unique conditions faced at Pikes Peak into the test programme. Testing on the actual course is very limited and only possible on certain sections at any time rather than the full course. For this reason, the bulk of the testing is not done on the actual route, but at race tracks.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb — also known by aficionados as the ‘‘Race to the Clouds’’ — has been held since 1916 near Colorado Springs in the Rocky Mountains.
Starting at 2862 metres above sea level, the 19.99km course which is now completely asphalt makes a 1440-metre climb through 156 corners. Practice and qualifying takes place on sections of the course with the Hill Climb decided by just a single attempt on June 24.
As well as the challenge of altitude there is a huge variation in potential weather and it is not unheard of for the 4302-metre summit, which also represents the finish, to experience temperatures below freezing at the end of June.
The electric prototype record being pursued by Volkswagen and Dumas stands at 8min 57.118secs and was set in 2016 by New Zealand's Rhys Millen driving the e0 PP100 prototype. The outright record for the course is still held by nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb with his 8min 13.878secs victory in 2013 driving the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak.
Dumas has driven a modified Norma M20 sports prototype racer to outright Pikes Peak wins in 2014, 2016 and 2017 with his best time being set on his 2016 winning run at 8m 51.445secs.
Electric bike racing began on the Isle of Man with the TTXGP race in 2009 with a switch to TT-Zero branding the next year. Early events were dominated by the US-based MotoCzysz team and since 2014 it’s been Team Mugen — the Japanese squad closely aligned with Honda — which has been unbeaten.
The latest Mugen Shinden electric racer that will challenge for TT-Zero records at the Isel of Man TT next month. Photo / Supplied
Initial targets of lapping the 37.75-mile Mountain Course at an average speed above 100mph were achieved in 2012 by Michael Rutter riding for MotoCzysz and the next barrier awaiting an electric bike is 120mph.
Team Mugen are clear favourites and unveiled its new 2018 “Shinden Nana” machine at the recent Tokyo Motor Cycle Show. The bike evolves the powertrain from the previous ‘‘Shinden Roku’’ with a 370-volt electric motor that develops an estimated 120kW.
The main changes for the new machine are revised aerodynamics with new front and side cowls designed to improve cooling efficiency and high-speed performance. Further developments have also been introduced to maximise the potential of the battery capacity.
In its bid for a fifth victory and a new lap record, Team Mugen has announced it will compete with a three-man team and has named New Zealand’s Bruce Anstey, the 2016 and 2017 TT Zero race winner on its rider roster. However Anstey’s participation at the 2018 TT is in doubt following the recent announcement that he is receiving cancer treatment.
John McGuinness returns to the TT races in 2018 — the 23-time TT race winner back in action after injuries that caused him to miss the 2017 TT event. McGuinness will be looking for a third TT Zero victory having won the race in 2014 and 2015 (when he set the current lap record for the TT Zero class at 119.279mph).
Northern Ireland’s Lee Johnston — a former podium finisher in the TT Zero class — joins Team Mugen looking for his first TT victory.
Practice at the Isle of Man starts on May 26 with TT Race Week running Saturday June 2 through till Friday June 8. TT-Zero is a single lap race on Wednesday June 6.