Monday, September 09, 2013

If you build it, they won't necessarily come.

Electric drag racing is a thing. There are some guys who have exploited the fact that an electric motor makes peak torque at zero RPM to turn clapped-out old Datsuns into eyeball-flattening drag racers. The other fact they exploit is that a drag strip is only 1320 feet long.

Road courses tend to be longer, and this has the potential to turn the proposed Formula E into the least exciting thing since the invention of competitive paint-drying during refueling stops.

Plus, the whole force-fed nature of the thing feels artificial. It feels like the American Medical Association sponsoring a High Fiber Vegetable Eating Contest, which just wouldn't be as fun to watch as fat guys burying their mugs in blueberry pies.

There's nothing inherently wrong with using competition to force a technology: From the Orteig Prize to the Ansari X Prize, it's been part of aerospace envelope-pushing, but they don't build bleachers at Mojave Spaceport and try and sell it as a for-profit sport.

33 comments:

Frank W. James said...

Yeah, but I suspect there's a ton of money available to the race teams who participate, or at least the first ones to sign up. Why do I say that? Because Michael Andretti has already announced a driver line-up for his Formula E entrants...

No matter what the technology is I'll still bet it will be cubic inches of money that determines who wins...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Jim said...

Formula E.

Sounds like something they'd serve with the steamed cabbage at the olde folks home.

Take your Formula E. It's good for you!

blechhh



Jim
Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

Tam said...

Frank,

No doubt. And something like this could grow organically, but they won't let it.

They'll overhype it from the beginning, prime the pump with megabucks, and then investors will get disappointed when the returns don't show up immediately.

It's going to be a four-wheeled WNBA.

Paul said...

Racing has made more advancement in car technology than any thing else. I would agree with the government printing money like a drunken monkey we will see a big pile of money running around trying to cook the books.

E racing would make for better neighbors than the earth shattering roar of the current crop.

I want one of those datsun's. Most of my driving is stop light anyway so something like that would be the cats meow.

Thorium reactors with electric cars. Now that is future I can get behind.

Scott J said...

What I often wonder is if enough people will watch the unbelievable bore that is golf that it gets its own TV channel why can't action shooting get more TV coverage?

perlhaqr said...

[T]hey don't build bleachers at Mojave Spaceport and try and sell it as a for-profit sport.

Having made it to both of the launches of SS1 to win said prize, (I was fortunate enough to be doing a long term contract in San Diego at the time for the first one, and then was still living in Las Vegas [don't do it] for the second one) and seen the crowds... maybe they should have. :D

It was actually a little heartening to see that many people turn out for experimental rocketry.

Anonymous said...

The electric motorcycles running at the Isle of Man TT have made a lot of progress in four years. There's a lot of potential for good racing as the technology matures.

I think holding contests with worthwhile cash prizes is a great way to drive innovation. It's certainly no worse than awarding grants.

Panamared said...

There is no question that organized competition was instrumental in the early advancement of the internal combustion automobile, and there is every reason to believe that interesting competition should increase sales of electric cars. I can't help but wonder if the people pushing electric cars have any plans to increase the available electrons available for those cars. The electric grid in most of the USA is stretched to the limit.

Anonymous said...

Just leave the rule-book intentionally vague, and recruit racers known for Smokey Yunick style exploitation of the "greay areas" in the rules.

Sure there will be the car that looks normal in all respects but secretly is a double-metal-skin with dialectric between layers, but imagine what improvements might be made in e powertrains by such devious minds/...

Matt said...

While interesting improvements in electric cars could come from Formula E racing I'd like a couple of the first challenges to be built into the racing courses.

1) Race course and lenght needs to have hills to climb and needs to be long enough to excide the generic 40 mile range that most e-cars seem to have.
2) cars have to be weighted and sized to hold two adults and two teen age kids plus a weeks worth of groceries.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I've never seen any F1 grocery getters around the neighborhood.

Armed Texan said...

I'm for it as long as they allow traditional fuels.

"Say what?!?"

Yes, electric vehicles make sense when you carry your electrical generation plant with you. A couple of microturbine generators running on anything that can be aerosolized and burned feeding into a minimal battery system driving some powerful electric motors would make for some serious racing as the cars should be lighter than your typical petroleum or alcohol fueled vehicles.

Ygolonac said...

Electric drags? Hell, I saw that on the Discovery Channel years ago...

www.powertooldragraces.com

Kristophr said...

Paul:

SR-90 reactors INSIDE Suburbans.

Why screw with transmission lines and charging stations. Just buy a new "engine" every 45 years.

Jay Dee said...

Formula E could be real exciting with zinc-air fuel cells running on high pressure O2.

Dave in Indiana said...

Drag strips, at least NHRA sanctioned drag strips, are no longer a full quarter mile long. They were shortened to 1000 feet back in '08 after Scott Kalitta was killed.

Robert said...

Quick-swap battery packs would make those pit stops a lot less boring. Standardize them so that all the racers use the same battery pack, and they they are all verified to be an equal charge within .0X percentage.

Rob K said...

Call me when an electric car wins the Cannonball Run. Then it'll be viable.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty cool, and that should be enough. But slipping in the "zero-emissions" and "environmentally sustainable" shit really sticks in my craw, considering those terms are there for one reason only.

Technology and fun can stand alone if left alone, but nooooo; greed and graft require subsidy. So intentional misrepresentation and willful ignorance, aided and abetted by gov, allow the people's pockets to be picked.

And for me, that takes all the fun out of it; I'll stick with hot rods fueled by liquid dinosaurs for now.

-chaz

Tam said...

Dave In Indiana,

"Drag strips, at least NHRA sanctioned drag strips, are no longer a full quarter mile long. They were shortened to 1000 feet back in '08 after Scott Kalitta was killed."

Well how do they run a quarter mile then? Go down, turn around, and come back a third of the way up the track? Wouldn't that kill your time?

;)

Fidel said...

Whats the fun of a drag race without the noise, the fumes?

Woodman said...

Fidel, I'm sure there's plenty of noise coming from the tires as they are half ripped off the car.

There is where you'll get some innovation, the tires will have to get better to handle that torque.

Angus McThag said...

The 1,000' is just for Top Fuel. Everyone else is still 1,320' because there's still adequate shut down space.

Walk down the track and you'll find an extra set of timing lights from when I was a kid.

Windy Wilson said...

Armed Texan; So you're arguing for the automobile equivalent of diesel electric locomotives?

tailwind said...

"...Qualcomm said, several pads could be built into the city centre roads used by the races to provide "dynamic charging" - the ability for the cars to top up their power on the go."

Better yet, forget the batteries and have conductors on the road surface, with a slot in between. Replace steering wheel with guide shoe. Put "driver" in the stands with a speed controller.
Deja vu all over again.

1911Man said...

Electric motorcycles make a ton more sense than electric cars, at the current state of battery technology. Done properly, they can absolutely ROCK.

MotoCzysz wins the Isle of Man e-bike class again:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m3L2CKmJ1w
(Full disclosure - I used to work for them.)

Lightning e-bike beats the dino-bikes up Pikes Peak:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cX-_eB8nkk

Critter said...

"Gentlemen, start your engines!"

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee..............

Anonymous said...

Au contraire, I think you'd get a TON of viewers for the High Fiber eating contest as long as you also broadcast the "24 hours later - Consequence Special" edition.

Woodman said...

"Au contraire, I think you'd get a TON of viewers for the High Fiber eating contest as long as you also broadcast the "24 hours later - Consequence Special" edition."

Actually it's more like a LeMans race, first in and out wins and anyone who finishes within 24 hours places.

And that's as far as I'm going to take that one.

mikee said...

Tailwind, I want the joysticks to require operation while an older brother tries to slap it out of your hand.

If we're going retro, keep it realistic.

NotClauswitz said...

I would watch it if the cars circulated the track followed by individual cumulus racing-clouds (think of the sponsorship capability!) that emitted bolts of lightning to each car in need of re-charging.
The drivers would have to wear Nomex AND rubber insulated underwear, and their hair would be terrific.

Justthisguy said...

It's the energy density which makes for the fun and excitement. It's hard to beat gasoline for that. Just wait for lightweight high-energy fuel cells, which blow up spectacularly from time to time. Then we'll see some electric road racing.

wheelgun said...

Take a look at the 24 hours of Le Mans. Audi brought us the Quatro - and it seems like everybody has all wheel drive now - from LeManns. And their latest car (or 2) is the e-Tron Quatro. Electric motors backed up by a generator.

Trains have been diesel-electric since shortly after WWII. Ships are all moving in that direction. Most new cruise ships run 2 or 3 jet engines to generate electricity, take the exhaust, make steam to generate more electricity, and then run everything on electricity - including motive power.

You should rewind about 100 years and look up the phrase "get a horse." Those early petrol-powered buggies weren't too practical either.