First electric car GP this year

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By Robert Harland


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ON SEPTEMBER 7, 1896, an electric car built by the Riker Electric Motor Company won the first auto race in the US at the Narragansett Trotting Park in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Seven cars took part in the race which began slowly, but the Riker soon pulled ahead and won the race easily, finishing its five laps in about 15 minutes.

Fast forward to 2014 and electric cars have now rounded a corner in their drive to be mainstream. It has taken 188 years, but this September, Beijing will be host to the word's first fully-electric Grand Prix racing series, the FIA Formula E Championship.


Formula E's image had a major boost recently with the announcement that teams will be fielded by film star and electric drive enthusiast Leonardo DiCaprio - paired with the French luxury electric car maker Venturi Automobiles - and by billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

Other competitors include conventional auto racing teams, like IndyCar teams Andretti Autosport and Jay Penske's Dragon Racing, as well as squads that focus entirely on green technology, like Drayson Racing of the United Kingdom.

"The future of our planet depends on our ability to embrace fuel-efficient, clean-energy vehicles," said DiCaprio recently.

And today's electric single-seater cars are no slouches. They are expected to achieve speeds and acceleration on par with conventional racers, running at 150 miles per hour (240 kph) and streaking from a dead stop to 60 mph (97 kph) in 2.9 seconds. So race fans can expect some real action.

To ensure the series gets off the ground with minimal issues, French automaker Renault will supply teams with the same vehicle - the Spark-Renault SRT_01E which many fans have already seen on the track.

The series is also set to get a lot of media attention with broadcast deals signed with FOX Sports and Japan's TV Asahi. And other broadcasters are considering investing in the new sport.

The Formula E series is designed as an ‘open championship,’ thereby inspiring manufacturers and constructors to build their own fully-electric cars, subject to the technical specifications set out by the FIA.

As well as encouraging competition, it is hoped that by making the championship a multi-make series it will serve as a framework for research and development around the electric vehicle and push the boundaries of the technology that is currently available.

And electric car fans say this is only the start. They reckon that as EV technology continues to evolve and improve, the superior performance of the inherently more efficient electric motor could give traditional internal combustion engine racers a run for their money.

Be that as it may, while electric car technology may seem sexy and cool, for an old-timer like me nothing can beat the incredible sounds and the amazing smells at a good, old-fashioned traditional car race.

I am told, however, that the electric cars will not be as quiet as one may think. Between the electric motors, tire noises and the whoosh of a car cutting through the air, they're expected to exceed 80 decibels - 10 decibels more than a typical gasoline road car.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 26, 2014.


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