When we met Shawn Lawless and his electric drag-racing super bike at last fall's Manufacturers Cup at the South Georgia Motorsports Park ( SGMP), we were impressed by the record-setting Rocket with its powerful A123 battery. When we heard he was coming back for the Spring event along with Jeff "Dice" Disinger and his Predator-themed bike, we made plans to head to the Peach State in hopes of witnessing electric-racing history.
When we arrived, we found the two machines side by side under an awning, and while they were both clearly electric drag racers, the differences were striking. Where the Rocket was all business, with a custom paint job being its only esthetic conceit, the bodywork on the Predator was all bulging and curvaceous with a paint scheme that betrayed the builder's creative streak and, perhaps, a fondness for sci-fi movies.
The biggest difference, however, lay under the skin. Here, the opposite approaches taken to batteries were made manifest. One had a pair of Prius battery packs, the other, a brand new custom-built megawatt monster. Hit the jump for more.
Photos copyright ©2011 Domenick Yoney / AOL
Photos copyright ©2011 Domenick Yoney / AOL
Disinger originally had lead acid batteries in the Predator and was in serious need of an upgrade. In a bid to get the most bang for his buck, he wrangled himself a pair of nickel metal hydride (NiMH) packs from retired Toyota Priuses and wired them up in parallel, retaining the 201.6 system voltage the famous hybrid runs at. He says it can put out 100 horsepower. To turn that power into motion the bike was given a pair of Lawless EV Racing-prepped 7.5 inch GE serial DC motors that required the chassis to be lengthened somewhat to accommodate them. Their Lawless sponsor also supplied a Zilla controller to help tie the system together.
When Dice rolls quietly onto the track, he captures everyone's attention. The Predator theme extends not only to his one-piece leather suit but also to the helmet he's cunningly crafted, as if having an electric bike on the dragstrip wasn't alien enough. When he pins the throttle, the motorcycle jumps, tire rubber screeches and he whirrs down the track, crossing the line in 12.40 at 94 miles an hour, a rate that's sufficient to take on a Tesla Roadster. For Disinger though, it's not good enough. He had run almost a full second better last year and when he gets back to the pits he's talking about adding another Prius pack to combat the voltage sag. Later, we learn the master plan involves lithium and hopefully getting into the "sevens" by the end of the year, a huge jump in performance. One worthy of the costume.
The battery in the Lawless Rocket is another matter. This megawatt monster is just that, a real 19.5-kWh lusus naturae. According to lab tests, when the throttle is twisted, it should dish out about 1.2 megawatts. That's 1,610 horsepower! By the time a quarter mile has passed beneath the wheels, that power would still be over 900 kW (1,207 hp).
The builder of this 400 lbs of lightning-in-a-box is Derek Barger of High Tech Systems. Well known in the world of electric racing, his work has powered the likes of the Killacycle and White Zombie. As luck would have it, he was on hand that day and gave us a little info on the cells he used in his latest creation.
After a long and mostly fruitless search, he found a company in China who could make a custom cell that met his specifications. Although coy about the specific chemistry, he informed us that the pouch cells are 5 amp hours and weigh 145 grams each. They can release energy at a continuous rate of 20 C with bursts up to 60 C. Trust us, that's a lot.
Unfortunately for Derek and the Lawless team, the battery didn't get the chance to properly shine. After having its start time pushed back, the Rocket was staged and the rear tire warm with the biggest smoke show of the day. With Top Fuel racer Larry McBride on board, the tree lit up and the bike launched. Later, the numbers would show this to be the beginning of a record-making run. The gods of racing, however, quit smiling and a fraction of a second after the throttle was pinned, a glitch in the Zilla controller interface reared its ugly little head and put a quick end to the party. The Rocket lost power just as it was starting to get interesting and coasted most of the quarter mile. It was to be the only run that weekend for the Rocket, leaving the Predator as the only electric available to entertain the crowds, which it did with a wheel stand on its next appearance.
While the Prius-powered Predator held sway on this particular weekend, we expect Shawn Lawless, armed with his new battery, will be making waves – if not records – later this year. While it looks quite at home swaddled within the depths of the drag bike, the power plant comes out easily enough and will also be used in a race-ready electric Chevy S-10. We look forward to seeing what the lithium state-of-the-art cells can do in either machine.