With great acceleration and no need to change gears, electric cars are proving serious contenders in the high-octane world of motorsports.
Electric cars are still more associated with a gentle eco-friendly pootle around town than the tyre-burning thrill of Formula 1. But that could all change next year.
FIA, the international motorsports governing body, is planning a 'Formula E', to kick off in 2013. This won't see the gruelling two-hour plus sagas of the petrol-powered Grand Prix. Instead, races will consist of short 15-minute heats, recognising that battery technology doesn't yet have the range of high octane petrol.
But when it comes to speed, they can be more than a match for their gas-guzzling equivalents.
Electric motors produce maximum power from very low speeds, so deliver good acceleration, with no need for gear changes. Given a big enough motor, there's no reason why an electric racing car shouldn't match the 200mph-plus speeds of a petrol-powered Formula One model. And of course, they offer the prospect of carbon-neutral motor racing.
Electric racing first hit the headlines three years ago, when the famous Isle of Man TT races launched a category for zero emission bikes. There's even been a movie made about it: 'Charge' (subtitled 'Zero Emissions/Maximum Speed') was directed by Mark Neale and narrated by Ewan McGregor. It helped spawn electric motorcycle championships in Europe, the USA and Australia, with teams from China and India taking part. Would-be competitors can buy ready-made electric race bikes from Muench Racing of Germany and Mavizen in the UK.
Meanwhile, some established racing car manufacturers are waking up to the possibilities of e-power. Lola Cars International, which has been building race cars for over 50 years, has teamed up with Drayson Racing to produce a battery-powered racer that they say will top 200mph. The Oxford-based firm is headed by Lord Drayson, former Minister of Science and Innovation, and has concentrated on greener forms of motor sport, running a bioethanol-fuelled car at the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2009 and 2010. The Lola-Drayson B12/69EV musters over 850 horsepower – that's about eight times the power of a family car, and probably enough to make this the fastest electric race car in the world.
"We aim to show that an all-electric race car can be as cool and exciting as a conventional petrol or diesel powered racing car – and a lot kinder to the environment", says Lola's Chief Executive Martin Birrane.
By. Peter Henshaw