12 Milestones in Electric Vehicle Racing

Take a look at 12 ways in which electric vehicles have evolved.
  • Electric vehciles are coming on strong and motorsports is no exception. The first ever land speed record was set in 1899 by an electric vehicle, but it didn't last.

    Electric propulsion in racing took a back seat to internal combustion-powered machines for more than 100 years. Then, in 2004 when The Ohio State’s Buckeye Bullet set an electric land speed record at over 300 mph, the world took notice.

    Suddenly, the advantages of moving via electrons wasn't just for boring golf carts anymore. Real performance was possible and pioneers in the sport found ways to make electric vehicles exciting. 2018 will be a breakthrough year with the appearance of several new examples of electrification of motorsports.

    On the following pages, take a look at some examples of how we got here and where we are going. Click "Next" above to get started.

  • Le Jamais Contente

    The first official Land Speed World Record was set in 1898 by Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat driving a Jeantaud electric car. His top speed run of 39.24 mph (63.15 kph) in a standard production machine was improved upon when he built a streamlined body for the car in 1899, probably the first ever attempt at improving the aerodynamics of an automobile.

    Later, while competing against Camille Jenatzy in his electrically powered Le Jamais Contente, Chasseloup-Laubat’s streamlined Jeantaud managed 57.65 mph (92.78 kph).  Jenatzy’s torpedo-shaped aerodynamic machine, however, was the first to break 100 kph, ultimately reaching a speed of 65.79 mph (105.88 kph) in 1899.

    The limitation with electric vehicles, then and now, was the amount of energy carried in the battery and Le Jamais Contente would be the last electric vehicle to hold the ultimate land speed record.

    (Image source: Public domain)

  • Lead Wedge

    It was a long time before electric vehciles were considered again for racing. In 1968, the “Lead Wedge” driven by Jerry Kugel ran a speed of 138 mph (222 kph) to set a record for electric vehicles at Bonneville.

    (Image source: Autolite)

  • Buckeye Bullet

    Through the 1970s and 1980s, several efforts moved the records higher with Ed Rannburg setting a record in 1997 at 201.703 mph (325 kph) with Lightning Rod, becoming the first to exceed 200 mph on electric battery power.

    In 2004, the “Buckeye Bullet” from The Ohio State University set a record of 314.958 mph (508 kph) at Bonneville. The Buckeye Bullet has gone through several iterations since then, including setting a record powered by a hydrogen fuel cell in 2009.

    (Image source: The Ohio State University)

  • Mugen Honda: Isle of Man TT Zero Motorcycles

    The famous Isle of Man (IOM) TT motorcycle race has had an electric class since 2009. Now called TT Zero, the race consists of one lap of a 37.733 mile circuit that is know as the Snaefell Muntain Circuit.

    The 2009 event was won by Chris Heath at an average speed of 66.022 mph. In 2012, Michael Rutter on a MotoCzysz motorcycle became the first rider to average over 100 mph (104.056 mph) on the course. The race has been won for the last three years in a row by Team Mugan, a racing arm of Honda. In 2017, the Mugen Honda pictured above set a fastest lap average of 118.416 mph on the circuit with Bruce Anstey winning.

    (Image source: Mugen)

  • Pikes Peak Hillclimb

    Pikes Peak Hill Climb in the U.S. has classes for both electrically powered cars and motorcycles. The overall fastest time for a motorcycle was an electric in 2013, when Carlin Dunne finished in 10:00.694 on a Lightning motorcycle and beating all of the gasoline engine motorcycles.

    Rhys Millen set the fastest Pikes Peak time for 2015 with a Drive eO PP03 electric vehicle, covering the 12.4 miles in 9:07.022 followed by “Monster” Tajima in second place and also driving an electric—the first time that an electric car beat all of the gasoline-powered cars in the event.

    Electric vehciles don't lose power as altitude increases, an advantage as racers near the 14,110-foot summit of the mountain.

    (Image source: Pikes Peak Auto Hillclimb)

  • Lightning Motorcycle

    In 2009, Lightning ran a pre-production prototype of its new superbike (pictured) to a speed of 166.388 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats with Jim Hoogerhyde riding.

    In 2012, an uprated version of the superbike ran a fastest speed of 218.96 mph while setting a 215.96 mph average speed and setting a new American record with Hoogerhyde riding.

    (Image source: Lightning Motorcycles)

  • Killajoule Sidecar Motorcycle Streamliner

    Dr. Eva Håkansson, a mechanical engineer originally from Sweden built an electrically powered streamlined sidecar motorcycle called Killajoule. In 2011 she set an FIM world record at Bonneville at a speed of 138.036 mph in the flying mile.

    By 2016, she had run a world record two-way average of 248.674 mph with a top speed of 270 mph at Bonneville.

    (Image source: Scooter Grubb)

  • BYU Electric Blue

    Students at Brigham Young University in Utah built a lightweight (less than 1,100 pounds) electric streamliner that set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2014.

    The two-way average speed of 204.9 mph easily beat the speed of 155.8 mph the BYU team had set in 2011.

    (Image source: BYU)

  • Formula E

    A worldwide, all-electric formula car racing series called Formula E began in 2014 with 11 races in 10 host cities. Races take place on street circuits and the races last approximately 50 minutes, with a mandatory pit stop at roughly halfway when the drivers change cars.

    The fifth season (2018-2019) will see a new car with improved power and range that will allow drivers to run an entire race distance without a car change. Auto manufacturers such as Audi, Jaguar, Nissan, BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz are now or will be involved in Formula E.

    (Image source: Formula E)

  • Jaguar I-PACE Race Series

    In 2017, a new race series for the new electric Jaguar I-PACE crossover sport utility vehcile will begin late in 2018. The series will run as a support during Formula E race weekends. Grid sizes of up to 20 cars are expected during the inaugural season.

    (Image source: Jaguar Land Rover)

  • Electric GT Racing

    A new series for electric production cars is scheduled to begin before the end of 2018. The series will start off with identical Tesla Model S P100D sedans, racing on circuits around the world. Racing tires, revised suspensions, upgraded brakes and full safety equipment along with increased aerodynamic downforce give the cars a significant performance boost.

    The company developing the series, Electric GT Holdings expects 20 drivers will compete in the first season.

    (Image source: Electric GT Holdings)

  • Global Rallycross Championship (Electric)

    America's Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) is scheduled to add an electrically powered class in 2020. The rallycross series pits drivers head-to-head in heat races on a mixed dirt, gravel, and paved course.

    It has proven appealing to a younger crowd, targeting the Millennial audiences that car makers are particularly interested in capturing. A number of manufaturers, both currently involved in rallycross and from other areas of motorsports are interested in the series, according to the GRC.

    The image above is of a gasoline-powered GRC car, but gives an idea of the kind of excitement the series provides.

    (Image source: Red Bull)


Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.


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