Electrics To Tackle Pikes Peak, Including Stock Nissan LEAF

By · June 22, 2011

Pike's Peak LEAF

A stock Nissan Leaf driven by Nissan off-road champion Chad Hord will take on Pikes Peak this Sunday.

While the mainline press will focus their attention on mega-horsepower racing machines roaring up Colorado’s Pikes Peak this coming Sunday, fans of vehicles powered by electrons will focus on three nearly silent vehicles—a stock Nissan LEAF, the Yokohama sponsored Custom Summit HER-02 purpose-built EV, and Chip Yate’s record-setting SWIGZ.COM Pro Racing Electric Superbike. The LEAF and HER-02 are running in the dedicated electric vehicle class that was established last year while the Electric Superbike will compete in the exhibition powersport division.

Nissan’s announcement that a production LEAF would tackle the demanding mountain hill climb was a surprise to most. The surprise wasn’t that a LEAF was entered, but why a production model and not the LEAF NISMO RC, a real racing machine that Nissan says “will likely make a series of demonstration runs later this summer at various motorsports venues around the world.”

The Pikes Peak LEAF is powered by a lithium ion battery composed of 48 compact modules and a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor that generates 107 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque—the same powertrain in every production model. A few of the production car’s interior components, such as seats and carpets, have been removed to make room for safety equipment, namely a roll cage, racing seats and safety harnesses.

Guiding the LEAF up the mountain will be veteran Nissan off-road truck racing champion Chad Hord. There’s no question that Hord has the skills to direct the car through 156 turns on the 12.42-mile course that begins at 9,390 feet and ends at the mountain’s 14,110-foot summit above Colorado Springs. There’s also no question that the LEAF, with just 107 horsepower, its stock suspension and a 90 mph top speed, won’t come close to the EV record of 13 minutes and 17 seconds. But that’s not the purpose—it’s to show that the LEAF not only has straight-line power, but also has the power to climb a hill—a very big hill.

Custom Summit HER-02

Pikes Peak EV record holder Ikuo Hanawa returns to Pikes Peak driving an improved Custon Summit HER-02. (Photo courtesy of Yokohama Rubber, Ltd.)

Unlike Hord, for Ikuo Hanawa and his concept two-wheel drive 2010 Custom Summit HER-02, the electric vehicle record is what this year’s Pikes Peak is all about. Last year the veteran Japanese off-road driver established that mark, which shattered the previous Pikes Peak EV record, set by Jeri Unser in 2003, by 65 seconds.

Based on last year’s machine, it features enhanced specifications and improved performance. It uses a lithium ion battery from Sanyo Electric and an AC Induction Motor from American AC Propulsion, enabling plug-in recharging. Sponsored by Yokohama Rubber, the EV buggy will be fitted with prototype Yokohama BluEarth tires incorporating various environmental technologies, including orange oil compounding techniques.

Pro Racing Electric Superbike

Chip Yates brings his SWIGZ.COM Pro Racing Electric Superbike to Pikes Peak to prove that “electric motorcycles don’t need to be slow and boring.” (Photo Courtesy of Caliphotography)

Chip Yates says he’s bringing his E-bike to Pikes Peak to prove “electric motorcycles don’t need to be slow and boring.” Gee Chip, we thought you already did that last January with two podium finishes at Auto Club Speedway in California, competing against race-prepared gasoline-powered bikes like Ducati 848s, Honda RC51s, and Suzuki SV650s. And that version only produced 194 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque.

For Pikes Peak, Yates and his SWIGZ.COM Pro Racing Electric Superbike engineering team are bringing an electric monster. Based on a conventional Suzuki GSX-R750, the bike is powered by a liquid-cooled electric motor from UQM Technologies producing 240 horsepower and 365 pounds-feet of torque. All of that power will be needed to compensate for the bike’s massive weight of 585 pounds.

The electric powertrain has a couple of advantages that give Yates a certifiable chance of besting the time of gas-powered bikes. “Our superbike makes 240 horsepower at sea level and 240 horsepower at 14,110 feet,” he said. “We do not suffer any power loss due to elevation, while gasoline-powered vehicles will lose around 30 percent of their power at the top.

“Secondly, our 365 pounds-feet of torque is available from 0 rpm as soon as I open the throttle—with few straight sections, we don’t have to wait for revs to build up in order to blast off the course’s 156 turns and tight corners.”

Popularly called “The Race to the Clouds,” the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the country’s second-oldest race, behind the Indianapolis 500. It began as a promotion in 1916 to publicize the then-new highway to the top of the mountain, and featured popular drivers Barney Oldfield and Eddie Rickenbacker.

Thousands of race fans are expected to be on hand to watch the 89th running of the hill climb. Vehicles in 11 different classes from the purpose-built vehicles, to semi tractors, motorcycles and ATVs, will precariously slide around sharp curves without the protection of guardrails. Among them, three vehicles will have no tailpipes, no emission of greenhouse gases, and will make the climb in near silence.

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