A brief overview of electric vehicle competitions
Electric vehicles have long caught the imagination of people. In this feature, ETN traces some of the prestigious electric motor vehicle competitions held around the globe, and how they've helped foster a sense of excitement and inspired an electric revolution through centuries.
In 1884, Wolverhampton, English inventor Thomas Parker would go on to build a prototype, a mode of personal transport in an attempt to replace horse-driven and steam powered carriages. It was only an attempt to build a low-cost, reliable mode of transport. His take on the problem – take a carriage, fit it with batteries and controls and a motor. A simple solution but unfortunately, it didn't take off due to various technological limitations.
Late 20th century is when we rediscovered that one of the solutions to various environmental problems and the oil crisis is the same solution Mr. Parker had prototyped about a century ago. The times were very different and the needs were completely different. Motor-sport was booming and in order to draw attention toward the environment and electric vehicles, many competitions popped up but only a few survived, one of them being the World Solar Challenge (WSC), Australia, a competition featuring prototypes built and raced by students and corporates, in the vast outback. It had its inaugural competition held in 1987. The next two decades saw very few new competitions. In 2010 we saw a few mainstream motor-sport bodies create a new category for electric vehicles; Andros trophy, an ice racing series and Isle of Man TT, a very prestigious motorbike race. Formula Student Electric, a student-level competition had its inaugural event in the year 2013 further strengthening the future moving towards electric vehicles. In the year 2014, we saw first electric vehicle world championship level competition, a very entertaining and charge-filled Formula E, giving yet another boost to the developments for electric vehicles. Last year, we witnessed the first season for Moto-E, an electric motorbike championship. Thanks to these competitions and the notable changes in the environment, technological development in electric vehicles has taken a major stride and multiple major automakers have joined in and heralding an automotive revolution. Let's take a look at some of the prestigious competitions that have helped bring forth the electric vehicle revolution.
World Solar Challenge, Australia
The great Australian Outback gets the opportunity to host one of the most challenging events held in the world once in two years. In the month of October, about 20 prototypes attempt to scale this vast wilderness at a speed averaging about 80kmph, only on solar power. Start-line is set at Darwin and the finish line is at Adelaide, a long, harsh 3022km route. This event is open to all; corporates and graduate/post-graduate students. They must design, analyse, manufacture, and test prototypes on their own. The event includes scrutineering, followed by qualifying and then the main event - the 3022km expedition from Darwin to Adelaide. Framework of a typical solar-electric race car – solar panels, batteries, control systems, a chassis and motor(s).
Every year, 24 open wheel cars blaze through 12 of the most progressive cities in the world at blistering speeds, racing against each other for a nail-biting season. From what I described, if an image of formula one or street racing came to your mind, you would be wrong. What I just described is an electric vehicle racing platform where manufacturers have to design, build, and race up to two battery-electric racing cars against other cars and teams. You earn points similar to formula one – winner gets most, with reduced points down the order. The constructors' points are the addition of the points earned by their drivers. After the 14 races, the driver and constructor with the most points win their respective championship. The framework of the vehicle basically takes up where Mr. Parker left off – a carriage (monocoque chassis), batteries (advanced Li-ion batteries), controls and a motor (high efficiency, power dense motors).
EV competitions in India
The scene of motor-racing in India is very limited and the only electric vehicle competitions noteworthy are graduate/post-graduate level competitions. Electric Solar Vehicle Championship (ESVC), SAE BAJA Electric and Formula Bharat Electric being the larger competitions. Other than these, there are competitions for electric go-karts, electric bikes, electric boats, etc.
Vehicles participating in ESVC are very similar to the WSC competitors but designed for a much shorter expedition – about 100-150km. About 70 teams from all over India compete for silverware, leading to various innovations and development of engineering skill. The take on the solution to the problem is very vast and you can see various unique prototypes and innovations being developed by the teams.
Formula Bharat Electric and SAE BAJA Electric run alongside their IC engine counterparts. Formula Bharat has a rule set similar to Formula racing – open wheel racing cars with rear wheel drive and various aero bits. SAE BAJA is a competition between all-terrain, rear wheel drive buggies. The number of teams migrating to these events from the conventional IC engine vehicles is steadily increasing.
If we can take any idea out of these competitions, it is that we can expect to see more and more EVs plying on the road due to the various technological developments coming out of racing and other competitions resulting in improved range, efficiency, and power control. To support the solar car race, IESA and ETN are supporting Suryakranti solar car race and to encourage budding talent to participate in such challenge. It's out effort to organise such global event in India.