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Electric cars making a run at mastering Pikes Peak

TOYOTA – Rod Millen will be piloting Toyota’s EV P002 at Pikes Peak this weekend. He, along with a few other drivers, are leading the charge in electric car racing at the peak.

The Grand Old Man of Pikes Peak is unquestionably Rod Millen. The New Zealand-born racer is 61 this year and he’s won the Unlimited class five times, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to try something different: his explanation for joining the burgeoning electric class this year.

It’s set to become one of the most hotly contested categories in the whole competition, with Millen’s Toyota EV P002 joining Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima in the E-RUNNER and two factory Mitsubishi MiEVs. That’s before you begin to take into account the three private entries in the electrical class, which come from as far afield as Japan and Latvia.

They’re all powered by voltage but that’s about all the cars have in common. The Toyota is rear-wheel drive whereas the E-Runner and Mitsubishi is four-wheel drive. The electric cars also vary massively in shape and weight.

But they’re all just as competitive as the petrol cars when it comes to negotiating the 12.42-mile course — and Pikes Peak is their perfect arena.

A normal engine loses about 1 percent of its power for every 100 meters climbed, due to the thin air. An electric car doesn’t need to breathe air, so it doesn’t lose any power at all from the bottom to the top. On the other hand, it does need batteries to get there — and those tend to be heavy and get warm, needing additional cooling.

The Mitsubishi MiEV, for example, weighs in at around 1,400 kg (3,086.47 lb). By way of comparison, Sebastien Loeb’s Peugeot 208 T16 weighs 975 kg (2,149.51 lb) while the Norma prototype of Romain Dumas weighs less than 600 kg (1,322.77 lb). That’s less than the weight of the batteries in the Mitsubishi alone.

There are other drawbacks to electric competition too. The E-RUNNER takes around four hours to charge up from empty. And there’s hardly anything left in the “tank” by the time it gets to the top just 12 miles later.

But it’s only by pushing the boundaries of this new technology that they retreat and show us what’s possible in our everyday lives.

As Toyota Racing Development USA’s project leader Steve Wickham explains, it’s all about using the technology.

“One of the key purposes of our car is to help Toyota to develop rapid charging technology,” he said. “It’s not just about reducing weight and adding performance to the car, as essential as those things both are. There are so many areas of potential development.”

The Mitsubishi and the Toyota benefit from plenty of manufacturer backing, with both companies using Pikes Peak as a mobile test bed for electric car technology. You can already an i-MiEV for the road — although the urban four-seater supermini looks nothing like the Pikes Peak prototype with which it shares a name. The Mitsubishi’s batteries get partially recharged by the energy recuperated from each wheel under braking — exactly the same principle as the kinetic energy recovery system in Formula One — and there’s also a torque vectoring system (which varies the amount of power supplied to each wheel to provide optimal traction round corners).



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