Three years ago, when the very first Refuel event was held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it was a relatively small affair with a smattering of vehicles in attendance. With the fourth edition of this electric vehicle-centric happening now complete, it's amazing to see how much has changed. And, how some things haven't.
First, what has changed. Back in 2009, participation was limited to a handful of Tesla Roadsters, along with a few conversions and prototypes. This year, it was sold out and contained cars and motorcycles from seven different manufactures: Tesla (both Roadsters and Model S), Nissan, Chevrolet, BMW, Coda, Zero Motorcycles and Brammo.
What hasn't changed? Kleenspeed's domination of the SportElectric TT – the time trial portion of the event for competitive types. Since taking the trophy for the fastest four-wheeled EV at the first Refuel, the company has repeatedly returned with an electric racer that gets successively faster.
With Kevin Mitz behind the wheel this year, Kleenspeed lowered the lap record time for electric
With categories for production and conversions, as well as prototypes, Kleenspeed wasn't the only one to walk away with hardware, and some of the performances were rather surprising. For instance, those turned in by the Model S.
The half-dozen engineering test vehicles on hand, piloted by Tesla employees, in most cases turned in better times than the Tesla Roadsters. While it's true that the original electric sports coupe has a quicker 0-to-60, the sedan has more pull at higher speeds. Indeed, the quarter-mile times for the two should be about equal. That said, though Tesla vehicle dynamics engineer Sean Wheeler completed a circuit in 1:51.832 with an S, former Tesla employee (and race instructor) Joe Nuxoll's 1.50.883 lap from 2011 stands as the fastest production electric time to date.
Another surprise? The Nissan Leaf. Specifically, the one belonging to Nader Assemi. (Thanks to Christophe over at My E-Life Now! for the pic!) It finished 9th in the production vehicle standings with a 2:02.883, impressively ahead of some of the Tesla Roadsters. While it's true that it benefited from non-stock wheels and tires, suspension modifications, and a sweet carbon fiber hood (!), it also bears mentioning that the all the Leafs on hand were able to complete lap after lap without being restricted because of excessive battery or motor temps.
Which brings us to the BMW ActiveE. Though we've no doubt the driving experience is, in many ways, preferable to that found in some other electrics, the Laguna Seca lap times for the German machine seemed slightly lacking. When one sees the brand's blue and white roundel on the hood, one expects exceptional performance, and while Don Louv managed to pull down a 2:06.494, the majority of the times turned in were only exceptionally middling. Apparently, despite liquid cooling, the battery temps climbed high enough to put the the stylish coupes in reduced power-protection mode.
What company in EV land has the opposite brand image of BMW? Coda. It's underdog status didn't prevent it from giving the bigger, more established players a run for their money, though. The lone Sedan in attendance stayed ahead of most of the Leafs and ActiveEs with a 2:12.109 run with Cory LaGoe at the helm.
The pre-production example did have more than a few modifications made to it, however. Besides a roll cage and Sparco racing seats, it also benefited from increased motor cooling along with more aggressive motor and regen mapping and a shorter transmission ratio with a higher motor speed than stock. Oh yes, it also featured KW suspension bits, an upgraded braking set up, as well as lighter wheels mounted on stickier tires, among other things.
As we mentioned earlier, there were also motorcycles at the track. Steve Atlas had no trouble putting the Brammo Empulse RR at the head of the prototype class with a respectable 1:40.269, though it might have been even faster. An extended waiting period to take to the course allowed the heat to escape from the pre-warmed tires, thus decreasing the amount of speed it could carry through corners. Luckily for the team, its racing competitors didn't make it to Monterey for the occasion. If MotoCzysz or Lightning Motors had been there, respectable might not have been good enough to take home the top trophy.
On the production sides of things, it was all Zero Motorcycles as Ian Lebov turned in a 2:08.889 on a Zero S. The California company's two-wheelers have proved themselves to be pretty dependable going all-out on the track and that trend continued here. The only disappointment was a lack of competition from other brands. Despite announcements of impending production, Zero was still the only electric motorcycle-maker with off-the-rack on-road product at the track.
While we ponder what 2013 might possibly bring, scroll down for videos from this latest event. We got footage of the fleet rolling out, fast laps and drawn-out racing battles. Enjoy!