Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Or so the saying goes… It’s a cliché that emerged from the smokey boardrooms of automotive executives in the 1960’s. A sort of advertising shtick used to justify spanking through obscene piles of cash in order to go racing.
The theory was, that if the green [race] car finished ahead of the red [race] car at the weekend; would-be customers might be more likely to sign on the line for a green [street] car later that week.
Does it still absolutely hold true today? Maybe, maybe not; we’ll leave that to you. But the important thing to remember is that when a manufacturer pushes in a clear direction during the race season, you are more likely to see a result of that push driving around on the street in a handful of years that follow. Look no further than traction control, flappy-paddle gearboxes, hybrids, and active suspension, for example.
The race for advancing technology in motorsport is hotter than ever before; and it’s working towards more than just figuring out how to cram more buttons onto Lewis Hamilton’s steering wheel.
Championships, which have previously hung their hat on fire-spitting, high octane-fuelled racing, are crossing their fingers that sparks will continue to fly when they switch to all-electric drivetrains.
The FIA World Rallycross Championship is the most recent example, which hopes to trade petrol for battery power come the flag drop on the 2021 season. Arguably series like the Formula E championship, and the World Endurance Championship’s use of hybrid engines have kicked down the proverbial door and blazed a trail for a new generation of emission-light racing.
This is all eye wateringly expensive stuff though. And unless you happen to be on first name terms with a bank or a blue chip, getting a slice of the electric racing pie is out of reach for most.
Or is it?
At the recent 2018 World Rallycross of France, an oddity stood in the paddock, among the finely tuned petrol-powered machinery. A R32 Nissan Skyline. Once the wheels started to turn however, there was no classic 90’s turbo-car scream and whoosh-sound. Instead, there was just a quiet whine, which was overtaken rapidly by the sound of squealing tyres. A quick look under the bonnet revealed all.
“We have built Europe’s first Tesla powered Skyline, and at the same time the world’s first tesla powered drift car”, explains Chris Hazell, boss of Zero EV. “It’s absolutely brilliant to have the opportunity to let people see it in action, and of course it’s great to be the first to have an electric drift car running a demo at an FIA world championship event. We’ve got Monster Energy’s Luke Woodham driving it for us here. He’s used to driving petrol powered race cars before and he’s been grinning from ear to ear after the first run in our electric car.
“The idea is to enable people to get into this. We are working on kits that are plug and play, with pre-made wiring looms and idiot-proof guides. The aim is to bring electric race cars to the open market. People will still want to build kit cars, drift cars, and do mad engine swaps – but the future is doing it with electric stuff. Our Tesla Large Drive Unit kit is under £10,000 and the car cost me £1,800 from a breaker, even with the batteries and various accessories – that’s still a fraction of the price of the average competition car.
“Away from motorsport the whole world is going to transition from internal combustion to electric power sooner rather than later, and that’s huge. The new generations of drivers in 10 to 15 years aren’t going to know any different. Anyone running one of these electric cars against a petrol cars… well the petrol car doesn’t stand a chance.”
And what is Chris’ response to hardened mechanics crying into their oily rags that there isn’t a piston in sight?
“I find it hilarious that people say this electric power is boring, or that you’ve ruined a perfectly good car,” continues Hazell. “It’s so ridiculously fast, and it’s the future. At the moment it’s in a reasonably mild state of tune, and we are putting out roughly 500bhp, and it’s well over 1000nm of torque. There’s so much less to go wrong – less moving mechanical parts. Everything can be programmed and tailored to suit the driver. We are looking in to torque vectoring at the moment – that is how much power is delivered to each wheel to help the car turn faster.
“It’s running a whole Tesla rear sub frame, motors, brakes, and twin chargers. With the twin Tesla chargers, we can do 22 kilowatts-an-hour charging. Put in rough terms 22 kilowatts is roughly what a house would use in two or three days, and we can chuck that into the car within an hour. This is just the start, we are developing drivetrains that run from 500bhp to 1200bhp using just electric motors.”
The verdict is good from the cockpit too. 30 year old Luke Woodham, who boasts four Gymkhana GRiD world championships to his name – a racing discipline similar to auto test – gave the electric powered creation the definitive driver’s verdict.
“It was a complete attack on the senses, I had no expectation as to what it was going to be like”, said Woodham. “The throttle response was the biggest thing for me. You don’t need to clutch kick or gear change – you just keep your foot planted and it is absolutely relentless. I think it’s actually easier to drift than a conventional drift car with a clutch and gears. People need to experience it first hand and feel the pure power and usability of the car instead of jumping up and down over the Internet about it.
“The downside is the obvious. I’m a petrol head through and through, and I will always miss the noise, because you’ll never beat the sound of a V8 or a rallycross engine popping and banging, but from a performance standpoint this thing is unbelievable. The only way to describe it is like being on a theme park ride. You’re just forced into the seat when it takes off without a lot of the usual references – like the rev-limiter. It’s got one gear and just takes off and keeps going. I was left a little bit speechless.
“I think the advantages can potentially outweigh the negatives though – if we want to continue racing, and keep going to all of the tracks we love, then the lack of noise is potentially one way to do that. We could even see more venues – in city centres for example – open their doors to racing, where noise does become an issue. If this is the future then so be it – I’m kind of ok with it, because it exceeded my expectations in such a big way. Time will tell…”