It helps to have friends in the business, especially if that profession is auto racing.
We recently got access to the pits at the American Le Mans Series raceway in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, Calif., thanks to Avnet Express and Mouser Electronics, which sponsored cars at the respective events.
Le Mans became a stop for the Chevy Volt that EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller is taking cross-country on the Drive for Innovation. The trip is a partnership between Design News parent UBM Electronics and Avnet Express. The Volt drove a parade lap around the historic speedway, and then we stuck around to get some shots of the races and 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal.
Seven days later, we were at the Infineon Raceway for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. We met driver Ho-Pin Tung, who was driving Mouser-sponsored car 88 (pictured below).
Click the image below to view our slideshow of the two races:
Driver Ho-Pin Tung in his Indy car at Infineon Raceway for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. (Photo courtesy Mouser Electronics)
For Further Reading
To keep up with our Chevy Volt coverage, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Volt across America to interview engineers.
Racing electric vehicles has been a constant evolution since their invention 100 years ago and solving challenges related to range, speed and quick battery swaps are all within reach towards creating a vehicle that can compete against a current Indy Car. However, if the race does not provide the visceral experience of hearing and feeling the noise of 20 highly tuned Indy Car engines hurtling down the front straight, there is little chance of atracting fans to the stands, to witness (read: fund) the event.
Beth, Data Acquisition has been around for decades on race cars. Telemetry is cheap enough today, that even lower classes of racing are using it. If you want to know more about these electronics, you can go to http://www.cosworth.com/Default.aspx?id=1094933 The data is used to make the car and driver faster. Think about shift points, braking points, slower drivers not using full throttle either due to poor car setup or lack of confidence in the car.
Electric Indy, I doubt that the fans will show up for a race where the cars are so quiet that you can't hear them. The sound of an electric motor whining around the track does not get the adrenaline going. Interesting - Yes, Exhilarating - No.
Ivan: Yes...Parnelli Jones' turbine car ran at Indy in 1968. The technology was quickly legislated out of future races. And you're right, Indy is all about rules, rules, rules, so an electric car would face a mountain of obstacles. I think you're onto something, though. What about an ALL-electric Indy race, where cars pull into the pits every 40 miles or so and use fast-battery-swap technology to install new sets of batteries? Sure, the cars would be slower than today's Indy cars, but maybe not as much slower as we might initially believe. Look this up: The White Lightning all-electric car actually ran at speeds of 240 mph. Maybe the race would have to be shortened, but it can be done. You may have launched a movement here, Ivan.
Anyone care to opine on just when and under what conditions we might find an all electric Indy race car? It might take some creative interpretations of the rules or some edits but I am willing to bet it will not be too long before an all electric car is entered.
I recall the turbine driven entry froma while back that almost won. That prompted some rule changes and I don't think we have seen one since.
It would definitely mark a turning point in the storied history of Indy racing!
I'm now kicking myself for not bringing my Nikon SLR along for that leg of the trip! But the iPhone 4 does a creditable job capturing still and video.
Thanks for posting this. We got a chance to talk with Jay O'Connell, Bobby Rahal's chief engineer and he gave us a sense for the amazing communication that goes on in real time between the cars and the pit crew during the race (and which shows up graphically on their computing screens as what they call "marching ants" as the cars zoom around the track!).
Here's a link to our post about how O'Connell and team are so good at what they do, that race series organizers have put a governor on their cars!
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