As anyone who follows the exciting sport of hillclimbing will tell you, the secret getting up a tight mountain course in the fastest possible time is having a carefully-prepared vehicle that has great breaks, plenty of torque, and direct, responsive steering. Simply put, it’s not about top speed: it’s about getting into and out of corners quickly, executing the sprint from one corner to the next as quickly as possible.
With their instantaneous torque and no combustion engine to suffer from the automotive equivalent of altitude sickness, electric cars are the ideal hill climbing vehicle, accelerating just as quickly at the top of an arduous hill climb as as they can at the bottom, which is why we’ve seen a dramatic shift over the past few years as electric vehicle technology has slowly challenged the status quo of powerful turbocharged gasoline engines at the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado.
Year by year, we’ve seen electric cars break more and more course records and narrow the gap between themselves and their gasoline counterparts — and yesterday at the 100th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, we saw electric cars and electric motorcycles not only tame the grueling 12.42-mile course with style but prove yet again that electric power is here to stay in competitive motorsport.
As we reported last year, the “Race to the Clouds” was actually won by an electric car, with Ryhs Millen putting in a time of 9:07.222 in the Drive e0 PP03 ahead of legendary race driver Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima, driving the all-electric Tajima Rimac E-Runner Concept_One. Millen’s time, while not a course record, did set a new electric car record for the gruelling 4,720 foot climb.
This year, he smashed his own record in a mildly refreshed version of the car he drove last year, putting in a time of 8:57.118, with an average speed of just over 80 mph.
Sadly, that time wasn’t enough to clinch first place: unlike last year, that honor goes to Romain Dumas, who managed to pilot a Norma M20 RD Limited-Spec-2016 prototype to the top of the course in 8:51.445, just one week after winning the legendary 24 heures du Mans endurance race in France. While Dumas’ car, powered with a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged engine wasn’t electric, it’s worth noting that he managed to clock the second-fastest time up the mountain in history in some rather challenging conditions.
Millen’s Drive e0 PP100 single-seat race car, with seven electric motors providing nearly 1.2 megawatts of instantaneous power, may have been beaten to the top this year, but it was still the fastest electric car climb in the race’s history and less than 6 seconds off Dumas’ impressive time. He also put in the fastest time on the top section of the mountain, thanks to the fact that unlike gasoline cars, which struggle to get enough air into their engines to operate at peak power the higher they get, electric cars produce the same power at the base of the mountain as they do at the top.
What’s more, it was more than nine seconds faster than the Tetsuya Yamano driving Honda’s specially-built all-wheel drive, all-electric Acura NSX EV Concept, which claimed third place overall with a time of 9:06.015 and more than 39 seconds faster than fourth-placed Paul Dallenbach, driving the gasoline-powered PVA hill climb special. It’s worth noting here that while Yamano placed third overall, teammate Nick Robinson, driving a standard NSX hybrid, won the Time Attack 2 class with a time of 10:28.820, showing that adding those extra motors to the NSX EV Concept and dropping the gasoline engine really helped dramatically improve performance.
Coming in fifth place, well off the winning pace and his time of last year was Monster Tajima, his 1.1 megawatt Tajima Rimac Concept_One finishing the course in 9:51.978.
In the motorcycle second, electric motorcycles thoroughly dominated the standings, with Don Canet, riding a race-prepared Victory electric motorcycle putting in a blistering time of 10:17.813.
Also worthy of note is the race-prepared Tesla Model S P90DL as driven by Blake Fuller, CEO of GO Puck, which put in a respectable time of 11:48.264 on the mountain to become the fastest production electric car to compete in the 100-year old race. While the car was lightened for the challenge — essentially its interior was ripped out to lose 800 pounds — the rest of the Tesla Model S was completely stock, including its massy battery pack, all-wheel drive system and power electronics.
What’s worthy of note however is that the team had to resort to some rather unusual methods to keep the battery pack cool, bathing the entire underside of the car in ice to keep the battery pack as cool as possible in order to ensure the pack didn’t overheat. Why? Unlike regular use, in which the Tesla Model S can keep its battery pack cool in most situations, climbing up Pikes’ Peak at full throttle quickly warms up any electric car battery pack — and unlike custom-built hill racers, the Tesla Model S isn’t built to sustain that kind of power draw.
— ROBRADY design (@ROBRADYdesign) June 26, 2016
With hailstones battering the mountain all through the weekend’s race, none of the competitors had an easy time on the course, but given the number of electric vehicles placing at the upper end of the rankings, we think it’s fair to say that the days of the internal combustion engine being truly competitive on Pikes’ Peak are numbered.
Do you agree? And what times do you think we’ll see next year?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.