Drayson, a multimillionaire businessman and former U.K. defense minister, is one of those at the forefront of electric race car enthusiasts. He is putting his money where his mouth is and hoping to spark interest in the younger generation by making the currently geeky attractive to a general audience.
Geeky looms as a big problem. Electric cars are being sold in the United States, but they haven’t exactly roared out of the showrooms. so far, sales here in England could be described as a non-event. the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said last month that just 812 buyers had taken up the £5,000 ($7,843) incentive for buying a plug-in car that the government started this year.
Yet tire kickers abound. “We have had lots of interest from a whole range of people — companies, early adopters and even ordinary individuals — we will have to see how it translates into actual sales,” Alistair Rhead, electric vehicle manager for Mitsubishi Motors, told ClimateWire.
This, according to Drayson, is where electric car racing must step in. His company is developing an electric race car with Lola Cars International ltd., a British racing car engineering firm.
In his mind’s eye, Drayson can already see the crowds and hear the whoosh of fast cars that don’t have the stadium-rattling throb of stock cars or banshee-like howls of Formula one racers.
“The electric car technology that is available, just over the last year, has got to the point where you can now build an electric car that will race very effectively and would be a very exciting car to drive and to race. Top speed over 200 mph, length of race 20 minutes, 1.5-mile circuit — a Monaco-type circuit,” he said. “That will start to pack them in.”
Technological innovation in the consumer car market has often been driven by the advances in auto racing, where parts are tested under extreme conditions, often to the point of destruction. “Turbochargers, active suspension, ABS, disc brakes, even the rearview mirror was invented through motor sport,” Drayson explained.
Getting traction for a different car
“The problem that the electric car industry has got is that unless people start racing electric cars, that process of innovation will not apply to the electric car.”
Because they can out-accelerate all but the fastest conventional race cars, electric cars have been taking trophies at drag racing events in the United States. But Drayson says the cars cannot simply — at least not yet — be put on the starting line at regular race tracks alongside conventional race cars. They are radically different animals and therefore demand that racing conditions be adapted accordingly.
Drayson pointed out that for three consecutive years, the world’s first electric superbikes have been racing at the annual TT motorcycle road races on the United Kingdom’s Isle of Man. there, top performance bikes and daredevil riders scream around the island at average speeds of close to 130 mph and top speeds well above that.
Electric bikes have had mixed results, but they are getting close to winning a prize for averaging 100 mph on the course. Drayson thinks the setting has to be different to draw the fans’ attention to the more silent electrics.
“It is no good taking electric racing to the Isle of Man TT — the cradle of hard-core motorbike racing. you can’t graft it on. you have to create a completely different type of event. It is no good turning up with an electric car at a Formula one race. you have got to create your own series, your own race,” said Drayson.
Taking its cue, the Paris-based international automobile association FIA, motor sport’s governing body, has called for tenders to hold for an initial period of three years from 2013 the world’s first Formula E championship for electric race cars.
Racing fans get older
According to Drayson, the pressure for this is coming not only from the car industry but from the motor sport lobby itself, which, while seeing healthy and growing audiences at the traditional fossil-fueled races, is also seeing the age profile of those audiences rising steadily.