Sunday, June 30, 2013

REFUEL 2013 - a total blast - lots of Model S's - for the first time, the outright winner is an electric motorcycle

The REFUEL race series is an all electric vehicle "race" that's more like a track day for electric vehicle owners, and just held its fifth annual event.  The series is organized by Speed Ventures, a racing instruction school that operates at least out of Laguna Seca Raceway.  I've attended 4 out of the 5 REFUEL's, and every year it just gets bigger and more significant.

This year there were well over 30 electric cars (and drivers) participating, the majority of which were Tesla Model S's, a handful of Tesla Roadsters, then other hands full of Nissan Leaf's, BMW ActiveE's, two Honda Fit EV's, three Toyota RAV4 EV's (Gen II), and 5 or so conversion cars.  One of those was a BMW M3 conversion by EV West, who had gone to the Pikes Peak Hill Climb last year but this year skipped it to be at REFUEL. 

In addition to the cars there was a large contingent of electric motorcycles.  The largest portion of the bikes were manufactured by Zero Motorcycles, but Brammo was there with an Empulse RR (Eric Bostrom) and an Empulse TTX (Shelina Moreda).  The Brammo contingent also included several customer bikes, including one customer who owns an Empulse TTX.  There were at least 3 home built conversion bikes.

There was also a contingent of 5 go-karts, high end models, from a racing organization that had worked with the FIA to be the first properly licensed electric go-kart racing series. 

The event is part racing instruction - many of the participants had never been on a race track - and part a semi-serious racing event, and some of them had lots of racing experience.  There were three races where the people started together and were properly racing each other.  The actual race by which everyone was ranked was a Time Trial, where everyone is started at 10 second (?20?) intervals and is expected to have their own race to see who can turn in the fastest lap. 

As it was last year, it was totally awesome seeing so many high powered electric cars on the track at the same time.  Last year, I think it was Brian Hall (Thunderstruck Motors), a man with decades of experience racing electric vehicles, who told me he thought that was the largest ever assemblage of high power electric vehicles.  This year it was bigger.  Last year, Tesla had just barely begun shipping the Tesla Model S, and the whole Model S contingent were Tesla Engineering cars.  This year, there were many customer owned Model S's, along with a few driven by Tesla employees. 

It was like we were in a sea of Tesla Model S's, and it was way cool.

The outright winner was Eric Bostrom, riding a Brammo Empulse RR.  This was the first year REFUEL was won outright by an electric motorcycle.  Every previous year, Kleenspeed came with their electric race car setting a faster lap, this time Kleenspeed was not present.

Eric Bostrom, Brammo Empulse RR
He was in the Prototype Electric Motorcycle class, which included the home-built conversions not just the factory prototype bikes like the RR.  Eric's laptime 1:38.502 was excellent, and bodes well for the eRoadRacing event at Laguna Seca at the end of July.  Kenyon Kluge (Zero Motorcycles) came in second, with a 1:55.684 laptime riding a Zero S but obviously modified.  Third was Chase Nachtman of Team Farfle Racing (Bend Electric Bikes), a collective of College students in the Bend Oregon area, riding a totally custom built bike (not a conversion0 with a 2:22.436 lap time.

In the Production Electric Motorcycle class .. First was Shelina Moreda on an Empuse TTX with a 1:51.381 lap time.  Second was Ian Lebov on a Zero DS with a 1:58.351 lap time.  Third was Jamie Perugini on a Zero S with a 2:00.573 lap time.  Fourth was Arthur Kowitz with an Empulse TTX, with a 2:03.856 lap time.

One takeaway from this is that the production Zero S/DS and Empulse R/TTX are very close to one another.  The results show them mixed together.

Michael Bream, EV West BMW M3 conversion

The conversion car class is rather confused on the results sheet.  I can tell that Michael Bream, of EV West, driving their BMW M3 conversion, came in first in this class with a 1:49.036 lap time.

Joe Nuxoll, Tesla Roadster

In the production electric car class, first was taken by Joe Nuxoll, driving a Tesla Roadster, lent to him by his friend Carl Quinn, with a 1:48.935 lap time.  Second was Gordon Jennings, driving a Tesla Model S, with a lap time of 1:55.157.  Third was Nicholas Wild, driving a Tesla Model S, with a lap time of 2:03.313.  Fourth was Pascal Vienne, driving a Tesla Model S, with a lap time of 2:03.663.  The first non-Tesla was a Toyota RAV4 EV, driven by Billy Kwan, with a lap time of 2:10.506 (and yes, I know it's a Tesla under the hood).  Next was a BMW ActiveE, driven by Jack Brown, with a lap time of 2:10.901.  The fastest Honda Fit EV was driven by Matt Walton, with a lap time of 2:19.378.  The fastest Leaf was the only Leaf and came in last in production cars, was driven by Rick Corcoran, with a lap time of 2:31.952.

They had a special class for "Tesla Employees" because who knew what kind of tweaks they put in.  First was Aaron Bailey, Tesla's development driver, driving a Model S, with a lap time of 1:48.917.  Second was Robine Shute, driving a Model S, with a lap time of 1:50.898.  Third was Sean Wheeler, driving a Model S, with a lap time of 1:52.861.  Fourth was Ross Maguire, driving a Model S, with a lap time of 1:56.440.

Notice the close times between Aaron Bailey and Joe Nuxoll.  Joe had been a Tesla employee for awhile, working on user experience design for the Model S dashboard, but in his spare time he is also a racing instructor, and in the REFUEL 2011 raced a company Model S setting a lap record of 1:50.8 and none of the Tesla's in REFUEL 2012 were able to beat that time.  This year Joe wanted to beat his previous lap record, and also beat all the Model S's.  He achieved the first goal, but lost to Aaron by 2 tenths of a second.  A groan went up all through the audience, in unison.

But the other thing to note is that EV West had a 1:49.036 lap speed, which is faster than everything other than Joe's and Aaron's speeds.  Michael Bream told me after the race, they're a very small team working out of a small garage, and here they are beating all but two of the Tesla's.  He was less than .2 seconds behind them, and had the 3rd fastest time overall for cars.  No small feat for a small team.

Overall results - #1 Eric Bostrom, Brammo Empulse RR, 1:38.502; #2 Aaron Bailey, Tesla Model S, 1:48.917; #3 Joe Nuxoll, Tesla Roadster, 1:48.935; #4 Michael Breem, EV West BMW M3, 1:49.036;

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