• Jul 9, 2012
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 vehicles cars to a very quick 1:32.046. That's a six-second improvement over its 2011 mark and more than 16 seconds better than its closest competitor: the Summit HER-02, which itself has set electric records for climbing Pikes Peak the past two years.



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!














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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 39 Comments
      • 2 Years Ago
      Note that those of us in BMWs were the only ones there without corporate involvement. Tesla, Nissan, Coda and even GM had reps or support there.The cars were not racing, but were spaced and supposed to point to pass. As you can see in the last video, the Leaf would not point me by and the car developed pretty significant thermal limiting after about 3 to 4 laps. The most dependable/consistent cars were definitely the Leafs, who also got support of a Fast Charger. Some of us did bring NEMA 14-50 adapters to charge. Aaron of Speedventures did well by providing plenty of 14-50 slots and most of us tried to be good about sharing. It was interesting how quickly the liquid cooled batteries heated up and discharged. We would consume about a KwH every minute. Still it was a great experience personally and I will sign up again next time. Speedventures really put on a great event for us.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        Where did the power come from? For the 14-50s and quick charger? Was the on-site power sufficient or was there a petroleum generator running? What did the reps for other companies do? Did they provide some kind of support that actually improved the results for other teams or just moral support? You say the LEAFs were most dependable/consistent. Where the Model S's undependable/inconsistent somehow?
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          Let me quote another event participant: the electric power available is impressive, but severely taxed for this event, so a 100kW+ genset should get things done. That said, the Nissan trailer included both a genset and the quick charger itself: http://bit.ly/hansetecqctrailer
      Timo
      • 2 Years Ago
      Dang, no videos for Model S for this event. Not even on youtube.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 2 Years Ago
      look at all those inexpensive aerodynamic and light weight electric cars.. oh that's right : )
      Timo
      • 2 Years Ago
      There were only two actual racing cars Summit HER-02 and Kleenspeed EV-X11, and frankly both of them compete in their own series, they are in no way comparable to each other. Both of those are made by small business, I wonder what kind of monster bigger companies like Tesla could conjure if they used their expertise to build one of those. Best Model S time is quite good considering that Model S is a big and heavy family car build for safety and carrying people and cargo, it is not a race car.
      • 2 Years Ago
      The last video above you can see me getting passed by 3 of them around 12:20
        Timo
        • 2 Years Ago
        Looks like you slow down around lap five a bit before those g past you. Battery overheating? Volts used their ICE during the race. I could clearly hear them while all others were silent. Kind of funny how silent that race was.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Timo
          The Volts should not be allowed to use their ICEs! Same with Karmas of course.
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Timo
          how dare you Timo. BMW is the ultimate driving machine. didn't you know
      db
      • 2 Years Ago
      Kleenspeed's Facebook page is showing their winning time as a 1:32.046 -- where did this 1:30 time come from?
        Dave D
        • 2 Years Ago
        @db
        Good point db, but the time is still impressive and would have put them in the field for one of the GT3 races last fall: http://imsachallenge.com/documents/results/2011_GT3_Laguna_Qual.pdf
          Dave D
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          Sorry db. I didn't mean to imply you were diminishing the times. Really just poor wording on my part. It was meant more like "good point DB. Isn't it exciting that they can run a 1:32...."
          db
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          I didn't mean to diminish their time, but the all-time EV record is still held by the Mission R motorcycle @ 1:31.376, set at the 2011 US GP, and the original ABG posted result would have disputed this. To be more apples to apples, Kleenspeed are approaching the D Sports Racer record of 1:28.25 http://www.trackpedia.com/wiki/Mazda_Laguna_Seca -- maybe a couple more years?
        Domenick
        • 2 Years Ago
        @db
        That, sir, is an excellent question. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Fixed.
      Ryan
      • 2 Years Ago
      1. That is a lot of electric vehicles. Pretty cool. 2. I'm not going to race that close to other people. I don't think insurance covers track racing, and I'm not sure what the costs are if insurance riders are available. If they spaced out the vehicles 60 seconds apart and it would be unlikely to catch up to the driver ahead of you or get passed, then maybe. You would still have to keep it away from the wall. 3. I wonder who got to the recharge station first. ;) I know there weren't enough to meet the demand for about 50 cars post race. Maybe that is what they should race for. Recharge spots. :)
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ryan
        Definitely. Top racers should get the plugs first.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ryan
        I was at the event, plenty of charging opportunities at the venue. Nissan even brought a portable quick charging trailer from Arizona, which helped the LEAFs greatly.
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ryan
        If the cars can manage to limp 1 mile there is a campground nearby with electrical hookups. I am pretty sure I stayed there in the 1986 with my grandparents and we watches some F1 cars lap the track. http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/parks/lagunaseca_camp.html
      Dave D
      • 2 Years Ago
      Wow, ~1:30 is up there with the Porsche GT3's. That is really impressive. I wish that the Drayson/Lola had been there to see what it could do.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I was very impressed with the turnout this year. I was great seeing so many enthusiasts bring their cars out. One point to note is that I actually pulled a 2:07.882 in the CODA on the second session. We could have done better in the TT but we actually caught up to the car in front of us.
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 2 Years Ago
        strike that, I see you're a powertrain engineer for Coda. could you or someone else from Coda help us understand why an 8000$ Chinese roller has to end up costing 40k$ even though you put 11k$ batteries in it. power electronics isn't expensive (if you do it right) and an electric motor can be very cheap, so what happened? did components get complex and expensive? and do you understand that 40k$ is sales prohibitive?
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Well, congrats, Dan. You appear to be way too smart and mature for the rest of us. Congratulations.
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          that is such a typical mindless suggestion, that just because I'm really smart I should fix everything that is wrong with this world personally and I'm wrong to suggest that others change
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Dan, with all due respect, what are you, twelve? Considering that you made a number of smart-ass comments on this thread, it should not come as a surprise if you are treated as such.
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          no I'm 36. that I made accurate observations about pathetic efforts by the automakers does not in any way excuse your stupidity.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          There are many other sophisticated systems in our CODAs, and your suggested prices for the cost of those parts is too low. Power electronics and electric motors ARE expensive if you do things right. This event showed the value of an active thermal management and accompanying battery management system. The CODA uses a lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePO4) chemistry, a lithium-ion derivative, which has excellent thermal durability, stability, safety and performance characteristics. All backed by the best battery warranty in its class Our MSRP is $37,250, equivalent to the Nissan Leaf SL. And the net price of the car is $27,250 (after the federal tax credit and the state of California rebate) putting us in the same ballpark with the Camry and Prius. Less still if you work for an employer like Sony Entertainment, Patagonia, etc. which offer additional incentives. CODA is a 100% privately financed, 100% electric car company. Not many other companies can claim that, not even our comrades at Tesla. We are proud of that. We followed our principles and expertise to put this all-electric sedan on the road.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          You should save that question for their business folks, not the engineers. That said, since you have such a good grasp of the situation, perhaps you should raise capital and start a competing venture and show them how it's done.
          Ernie Dunbar
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          You say that like there's absolutely no incentive in a capitalist system to produce a product at a lower cost than your competition.
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 2 Years Ago
        do you work for Coda?
      paulwesterberg
      • 2 Years Ago
      It is impressive that the modelS managed to come within 1 second of the production electric vehicle record. I cant believe a Leaf beat some roadsters(bad drivers?) and the activeE. Suck it BMW!
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        It's funny too because Don Louv has been casually racing his fleet of BMWs (M5, M6) for years. I don't find it so strange the Model S came within 1 second of the production EV record. The Model S is quite fast.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          Don was very gracious about the situation. It's pretty clear that his car hit the thermal limit after a round or two. It's interesting that BMW would begin to limit motor power once the battery temperature hit 102 F. And it's very surprising that active cooling didn't help them get better performance on the track. The Leaf doesn't limit motor power until its battery hits 120 F. None of the cars came close, despite multiple quick charges throughout the day. Very impressive.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          "The BMW reduces power output at 105F?" That seems absurdly low. With normal daytime temps in the mid to high 90's around here in the Summer, and with actual pavement temperatures getting much higher than that, the BMW would have serious issues around here for four or five months out of the year.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          Interesting about the LEAFs. Although they do have active cooling, it just isn't very powerful as it uses air. The BMW reduces power output at 105F? Is there phase change (A/C) cooling for the pack? If not, what happens when it reaches 105 outside? The best heat exchanger (radiator) isn't going to get pack temps below 105F when it's 105F ambient. Does the car just slow down all the time then?
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          I have to admit that I didn't read through the entire shop manual for the ActiveE and I cannot answer your question authoritatively. I have only quote what some of the drivers noted in our Facebook group. Yes, 102 F is surprisingly low. That said, it didn't look like motor power was severely limited at that temperature, although the cars went slower. If I had to guess, I would say that they start ramping motor power down at 102 F until they hit thermal shutdown around 120 F.
        JakeY
        • 2 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        From the picture of the vehicle, I take it he is a better driver than most. But he probably benefited from some race tires and other mods (while it seems the ActiveE and Roadsters are stock). The ActiveE apparently had battery temperature issues. This year is a lot more fun with the variety of vehicles though. Looking forward to next year (hopefully the Model S Performance can make a run and improve the times; would like to see the Karma there too). The problem with Refuel though is the spacing of the vehicles means there's a lot of passing required for faster cars, so it's not the same as doing a full bore lap on the track.
          paulwesterberg
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          I mean the leaf did 3 laps. The model S could likely do many more.
          paulwesterberg
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          From the leaf video it looks like they did 3 laps and a lot of the cars ditched out after 1 or 2 laps. I think if your car has the chops to run a few laps you can put down some fast times without many vehicles blocking you.
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