Battery-electric race cars to charge up Pikes Peak

Nobuhiro Tajima's electric Pike Peaks hillclimb car

All-time Pikes Peak Hillclimb record holder Nobuhiro Tajima switches from gas to electric this year with a car with his name on the nose.

Two electric cars competed in the 2011 Pikes Peak hillclimb and both set official records. One was a stock production Nissan Leaf and the other a purpose-built electric racer. This year record setting will be more difficult. For 2012, there will be other cars in the class…and it won’t be the first official year of record keeping.

At least Ikuo Hanawa along with his Summit HER-02 will be back to defend his record. The HER-02 is a classic—but for the electric motors by AC Propulsion (who worked with BMW on the Mini E electric)—rear-drive hillclimb buggy. With 268 horsepower, the HER-02 zipped to the top of Pikes Peak in 12:20, less than two and a half minutes longer than the all-time record for the trip to the top.

There’s no positive word, however, that the Nissan Leaf will be back, which is particularly disappointing with the entrant list now at seven cars, including a Mitsubishi i, the four-place battery electric stock except for the front bumper modified for improved aerodynamics.

A bit more radical is Mitsubishi i-MiEV Evolution. Although it uses the same motor, drive battery and other major components as the production i, only the barest resemblance of the production i is left. Built from the ground up as a racer, the i-MiEV Evolution has a tube-frame chassis and a carbon fiber cowl, plus other features to keep weight down and improve aerodynamics. Power will come from three motors, one driving the front wheels and two motors driving the rear wheels, for four-wheel-drive with total output of 320 horsepower. Mitsubishi didn’t provide weight data for the i-MiEV Evolution.

Mitsubhishi i-MiEV Evolution combines standard drivetrain elements in a lightweight racecar shell.

Mitsubhishi i-MiEV Evolution combines standard drivetrain elements in a lightweight racecar shell

The i-MiEV Evolution will be piloted by two-time Dakar Rally champion Hiroshi Masuoka while the Mitsubishi i will have off-road racer Beccy Gordon—of, yes, that racing family—behind the wheel.

The Unsers, another racing family with a massive amount of Pikes Peak experience is involved with the ZEUS Racing Team, which will run a pair of cars at this year’s Pike Peak. Jeri and Robby Unser will drive respectively  a pure electric and hybrid race car up the hill. Jeri set an unofficial (with no official electric car category yet) fastest time up the hill for an electric in 2003, while Robby has seven different wins in different classes for the hillclimb. The battery electric, of course, will be competing in the electric car class, but the hybrid will be competing in the unlimited division.

The cars to be driven by the Unsers will use Zero E Technologies eDrive system. Tue Zeus Racing Team claims that “above 50 MPH, ZEUS’s electric motors provide more torque at the wheels than any of the conventional cars entered. Above 100 MPH, ZEUS’s electric motors double their torque.” Unser is not just running for respectability, then, but for the overall fastest time.

Veteran sport and stock car driver Boris Said will be driving a BMW M3 converted to electric power by EV West, a supplier of high-performance electric vehicle motors and parts. High performance should apply to Said’s ride. Output is cited as 700 horsepower.

Elias Anderson, a dirt track Modified driver from Austin, Texas, will be driving something called a Lightning XP12 up the hill. There’s no word exactly what that will be. Meanwhile, Toyota is entering a TBD—“to be determined”—with Fumio Nutahara driving.

Perhaps the car to watch among the electrics, however, is from “Team APEV with Monster Sport.” The car, which bears its driver’s name on its nose, will be driven by Nobuhiro Tajima, the current overall record holder on Pikes Peak. Not much has been released about the race vehicle, but with Tajima behind the wheel and behind the design, it’s appears to be the team to beat.

Indeed, at Pikes Peak, the electric racers might well be the power source to beat. An advantage for an electric car on the hill, claims Zeus, is that it never has to shift gears. A conventional car with a gas engine has to make as many as 120 gear changes, and at 0.15 to 0.20 seconds per shift, that calculates to more than 20 seconds being slowed by gravity and not under power. And too, at the top of Pikes Peak—at more than 14,000 feet—the thin air leaves conventional combustion gasping. Electric motors, of course, are unaffected by altitude. One of the oldest races in America may be the place where the newest kind of race cars first take the checkered flag.