A quiet milestone: electric Indy-style car sets first class record at Indianapolis
On Saturday, May 7, 2011, three weeks before the Centennial Indy 500, history was made and a new era in racing at Indianapolis begun. The significance of the event was not only electrifyingly (pun intended) significant but eerily silent too -- both as it occurred and as covered by the motorsports media.
As part of Indianapolis Motor Speedway's inaugural Emerging Tech Day event, driver Billy Roe drove a battery powered electric open wheel race car around the famous two and half mile oval at an average speed of 106.897 miles per hour.
It was the first official time trial IMS has ever sanctioned for an electric open Indy-style car, establishing a baseline speed record meant for nothing but breaking.
"We believe the burgeoning automobile sustainability market presents a significant opportunity for companies and individuals in racing," said Mark Dill, Vice President, Marketing & Public Relations at the Speedway. "People within motorsports and among the many big companies wanting to reach the market for their products are talking about 200 mph laps, using electric motor -powered race cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway."
Emerging Tech Day was the first step toward achieving such lofty goals. The event, created to launch the Speedway's new automotive sustainability strategic direction, featured a variety of collegiate competitions using solar, hybrid and electric technologies. Sponsored by Allison Transmission, Duke Energy and Indianapolis Power & Light, the one day celebration of the future was well received by the students, faculty, local radio and TV personalities, sponsors and invited guests.
Unfortunately, except for the 35,000 runners participating in the 500 Festival Mini Marathon who had to run through the infield near the Emerging Tech Day activities as part of the course, there were relatively few spectators. Several thousand people were actually in attendance, but compared to the what the track that hosts "the greatest spectacle in racing" looks like when filled every Memorial Day weekend, the crowd was definitely a disappointment.
The lack of an audience didn't bother Billy Roe a bit.
"I love this place," said Roe, the former Formula Atlantic driver who qualified and raced in the 1997 and 1998 Indy 500’s. "And I'm so proud we were able to set the first EV record at Indianapolis. I never thought we'd run this car again but when I heard about Emerging Tech Day and the opportunity to run this thing one more time, I had to make it happen."
Roe couldn't do it alone, however.
The Brawner Hawk EX-11 was built in 1993 by Tom Brawner, cousin of the late, great Clint Brawner who prepared and built cars for Jimmy Bryan, Eddie Sachs and Mario Andretti, among others. It competed in a number of EV races during its 'active' period and failed to finish first just once in nearly a dozen starts thanks to a mechanical, no, actually an electrical problem.
But that was more than 15 years ago and the car had been sitting in Roe's garage ever since.
Time to get the band back together.
Brawner, who originally converted the well-used 1985 Lola T800/Cosworth to battery power and a 192-volt DC motor, was back on board along with John Becker, the now -retired former battery company executive who helped procure the 16 standard, off-the-auto-parts-store-shelf lead-acid batteries that were housed in the car's custom, quick-connect (for pit stops) sidepods.
With additional, invaluable support from Don Karner and ECOtality North America and Gene Terrell of Terrell Battery Systems the EX-11 was readied, loaded and trailered from Phoenix, Ariz. to Speedway, Ind. for the record attempt.
And then, with zero fanfare, little attention and absolutely no problems at all Roe and the EX-11 put themselves into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway record book.
"It was a good run," said Brawner, "but you have to remember this car represents old technology. The motor, controller and batteries are all from the early nineties. And this car still has the same problem it had back then as far as performance; 400 lbs. of batteries offering about the same amount of energy as a gallon of gas."
The record-setting run is now another part of the past for Brawner, Roe and Becker but they're all looking forward to 2012. Because their experience at Emerging Tech day sparked (another intended pun) new interest in trying to make electric race cars not just feasible but practical, powerful and above all, popular.
"We think the Emerging Tech day was a good success, especially for a first time effort," said Dill. "But we plan to make a greater investment and offer a much larger menu of activities in 2012. We see an exciting eco-system of companies, from high technology to power utilities to automotive firms, both established and entrepreneurial, that recognize an exciting business opportunity. EV racing can create a new market space for what we believe will be a very high growth industry."
Read more of Bill Tybur at his website: https://fmfl.net