Are electric vehicles really just boring ugly golf carts that snarl up traffic because they're slow? Nope, but that's a big stereotype that has to be destroyed before mass adoption of electric vehicles will happen. A part of that is to take electric vehicles to the race track and see what they can do. Last weekend was the fifth annual REFUEL race at Laguna Seca Raceway, open to all electric vehicle owners—even the ones who've never been anywhere near a race track. The event is a chance for track time, focused on electric vehicles, and while it's open to racing newbies some top racers do participate and set competitive lap times.
The annual REFUEL race is organized around a series of short, three-lap races and a time trial race which serves as the contest from which the results are derived. The event is organized by racing instruction school Speed Ventures, and the day includes some training on racing techniques making it possible for newbies to get on the track and drive.
The event has grown significantly over the years, and a big force at this years REFUEL were the customer owned Tesla Model S's. There were over 28 electric cars present, including the Model S, Tesla Roadster, Honda Fit EV, Nissan Leaf, Gen II Toyota RAV4 EV, and a handful of electric conversion cars. Electric motorcycles were also present, with at least 18 including Brammo, Zero Motorcycles and a handful of electric conversion bikes. Finally, a group of five electric go-kart racers came for a new racing series that's certified by the FIA (an international racing organization).
Plenty of friends, family and spectators were there and the atmosphere was a wonderful chance to meet new people or renew friendships and acquaintances.
That's all fine, but how did they do on the track? While the Tesla Model S and Roadsters were a dominant force, they weren't the entire story.
The fastest vehicle on the track wasn't even a car, but a motorcycle. Eric Bostrom, a top motorcycle racer and a development rider for Brammo, rode the Empulse RR for a 1:38.502 lap speed.
The next fastest vehicles weren't cars either, but electric go-karts. These were designed by Rattlesnake Electric Sport, a group that's worked with the FIA to develop fully-certified vehicles for an electric go-kart racing league. Their fastest result was by Marcos Ramirez, with a 1:44.688 lap time, and the slowest was by Gabriel Devault with a 1:48.771 lap time.
Largely speaking, the Tesla Model S's demolished the Tesla Roadsters. Other than one Roadster driven by Joe Nuxoll, a racing instructor, the top nine electric cars were all Model S's. You might think that because the Roadster looks the part of a sports car that it's going to run faster than the Model S, which looks the part of a regular sedan. My, how looks can be deceiving. Or else Tesla stacked the deck by putting good drivers in some Performance Model S's.
Joe Nuxoll is a former Tesla employee who had worked on user experience design for the Model S dashboard and is a part-time racing instructor. At the 2011 REFUEL event he'd driven a Tesla Roadster achieving a 1:50.8 lap time, a lap record that wasn't beaten at the 2012 REFUEL event. For 2013 he borrowed a Roadster, owned by his friend Carl Quinn, with the intent to not only beat his time in 2011 but to beat all the Tesla Model S's.
The fastest electric car was a Tesla Model S, driven by Aaron Bailey, a Tesla employee who works on the suspension system, with a lap time of 1:48.917. Joe's lap time, of 1:48.935, was oh-so-very-close.
The third fastest electric car was a BMW M3 electric conversion built by EV West, driven by Michael Bream, with a lap time of 1:49.036. This car was originally built for the 2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb race. EV West is a small team but managed to produce a car that finished faster than all but two of the Tesla's.
The fastest car without a Tesla name on it, but with Tesla manufactured drive train components under the hood, was a Gen II Toyota RAV4 EV, driven by Billy Kwan with a 2:10.506 lap time. The fastest BMW ActiveE was driven by Jack Brown, for a 2:10.901 lap time. The fastest Honda Fit EV was driven by Matt Walton for a 2:19.378 lap time. The fastest Nissan Leaf was driven by Rick Corcoran for a 2:31.952 lap time.
Most of the electric motorcycle results had similar laptimes, demonstrating the big strides made by the electric motorcycle industry.
The second fastest electric motorcycle was ridden by Shelina Moreda, a development rider for Brammo, on a Brammo Empulse TTX, for a 1:51.381 lap speed. The TTX is Brammo's race-ready version of the Empulse R.
Kenyon Kluge, a Zero Motorcycles electrical engineer, rode a modified prototype Zero S for a 1:55.684 lap speed.
Other electric motorcycles included Brammo Empulse R and TTX's, Zero Motorcycles S, DS, FX and MX's, and three conversion bikes. The Brammo's and Zero's were pretty evenly matched with lap times ranging from 1:58.351 to 2:41.058. These speeds are similar to those of the electric cars.
It may be, as some say, that if the rationale for electric vehicle adoption is left solely to peak oil, gasoline price, or climate change issues, that we won't see enough EV adoption to solve those issues. Electric vehicles can, if packaged correctly, provide the performance to satisfy those who want high performance. As Tesla Motors has long said, getting rid of the slow/boring/ugly stereotype requires developing high performance, stereotype smashing vehicles.