All-electric race car speeds to record

Kleenspeed's EV-X11 claims to be the fastest all-electric racer in the world

An all-electric race car being developed in Silicon Valley has sped into the record books at California's Sonoma raceway setting a lap record for an electric car.

The Kleenspeed EV-X11 made the run on Friday when it got around the 4 kilometer track in 1 minute 35.99 seconds. That works out to an average speed of just over 150 kilometers per hour and the car hit a top speed of about 210 kilometers per hour. (See video of the car on the Sonoma track on YouTube.)

"It's pretty good," said Kevin Mitz, who was behind the wheel of the car. "The same cars we run with a gas engine, 1 liter gas engines, motorcycle engines, they are about 400 pounds lighter than this one so we're at a disadvantage with the weight, but we're only about 3 to 4 seconds slower on your average comparable car to this."

The car is the product of five years work for Kleenspeed, said Timothy Collins, president, CEO and founder of the company, which is based at the NASA Ames Research Park in the heart of Silicon Valley.

"The first car we developed we tested in secret at a racetrack in Nevada over four years ago," he said. "Then we bought another car and then we bought this car and we converted it. So each car had a different system and from each car we learned about the stresses. We do have another car on the drawing board."

Like Formula One teams, Kleenspeed is using the racing car as a test bed for technology it hopes will be useful in more mainstream vehicles.

"Once you develop a race car system, you can migrate those into the passenger cars," Collins said. "We actually have a passenger car coming out in October, not for sale, it's a test vehicle with a 150 mile battery pack in it and a completely new system. It incorporates all of the technology we have developed to date."

The electric race car uses the same lithium-ion battery technology that's familiar to many people from their electronics gadgets. Passenger electric cars like those from Nissan and Ford also use lithium-ion batteries, but while passenger cars can pack enough to have a useful range, in race cars that is still a problem.

The amount of energy that can be stored in the battery means the car is only capable of a seven or eight laps before it's out of power.

But Collins is confident that will keep improving.

"Next year nine laps, the year after ten or eleven laps. Every year the energy density of the lithium cells will be greater," he said.

Despite the short range, the electric car can be compared favorably to conventional race cars in some areas, Mitz, the driver, said.

"The torque and the power is instantaneous and that's what we want. When you step on the throttle, in one of these it's like stepping on the throttle in a drag car. Just seat of the pants throttle acceleration and you have to control the throttle pedal and the wheel spin and that's where it gets difficult," he said.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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