NASCAR Unveils Electric Car Prototype: ‘About Us Exploring What Our Future Could Look Like’

CHICAGO — NASCAR unveiled a prototype of its electric vehicle Saturday as a symbol of its commitment to achieving zero carbon emissions in its core operations by 2025.

That electric vehicle could prove to be more of a symbol than a reality when it comes to actual racing.

NASCAR may turn to hydrogen engines as a solution to reduce its carbon footprint. Therefore, NASCAR will continue to investigate whether an electric alternative is the best option.

Although NASCAR had considered holding electric-vehicle demonstration races with each manufacturer building cars, the one vehicle it unveiled Saturday during the street course weekend in Chicago is the only one so far. No demonstration races are planned.

“I’m not sitting here saying we’re going to announce a series,” NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer John Probst said. “It’s more about exploring what our future could be. … As we learn, we’re in the driver’s seat, wherever our future takes us.”

The three current NASCAR competitors — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — collaborated on the car’s design, with no other potential NASCAR manufacturers involved. The car already has a sponsor, as NASCAR announced that electrification and automation company ABB has become its first partner as part of its sustainability mission.

“From our perspective, the idea is just to be prepared for whatever the future brings,” Probst said. “We’re looking at everything that has to do with combustion, from renewable fuels to hydrogen to electrified hybrids to … our battery electric vehicle.”

Former Cup driver David Ragan was the test driver, including a three-day test at Martinsville for the car, which has a modified chassis from the current Next Gen car used in Cup racing. The steering, suspension, brakes and wheels are all from the current Cup car. The powertrain can produce 1,000 kilowatts at peak times. Braking converts kinetic energy into power, a common practice in many of the hybrid engines used in other racing series.

No serial number has yet been determined, the prototype electric NASCAR vehicle uses a generic motor and no manufacturer has developed a motor specifically for it.

There are two things that will definitely catch the attention of NASCAR fans:

–The absence of sound without a combustion engine.

–The large wing rises high above the car, which was designed as a crossover utility vehicle. It is therefore a few centimeters higher than the current Cup car and required a huge rear spoiler to generate the necessary downforce.

First look at NASCAR’s new EV prototype.

“My whole life. I’ve driven cars that made noise, you could hear certain things, you could smell certain smells, and this car was really different,” Ragan said.

“On a track like Martinsville, where you’re hitting the wall on the straights, you can always hear the exhaust rattle against the wall and you could just feel how close you were to the wall. … I could hear the tires squealing or chattering halfway through the corner. You could smell the brakes a lot more.”

NASCAR officials know that a large portion of their fans are opposed to the switch from an internal combustion engine to a high-torque car. However, they also want to follow the lead of the participating manufacturers with their passenger cars.

“There’s a long, long road ahead for the internal combustion engine, whether it’s powered by renewable fuel or hydrogen, that’s another thing we’re very interested in,” Probst said. “But then of course there’s the electrification side of that, whether it’s hybrid … [and] also the battery electric [powered vehicles].”

Car manufacturers often use racing to develop technologies and showcase their current high-end technology.

“On the consumer side, carbon is the enemy, right?” said Tyler Gibbs, general manager of Toyota Racing Development. “On the consumer side, we’re going through a portfolio approach of different vehicles [from EVs to hydrogen-fuel cell]… In motorsports we see that the combustion engine has been around for a long time and motorsports have been around for a long time, purely because of the way it works.

“Hydrogen is a big part for us. Carbon neutral fuels are a big thing for us.”

Probst couldn’t stress enough that the electric vehicle is still exploratory in nature and whether or not a series will ever materialize is yet to be determined. There has been speculation that NASCAR’s Xfinity Series could become their electric stock car series.

“I wouldn’t sit here today and say we’ll never do a series,” Probst said. “I’m just saying that now. I don’t want to create the expectation that the series will be announced next year. It’s not. We’re not saying no to it.

“But I just think it’s an opportunity for us to do something meaningful in the sense that we develop new technology for our cars [and then] assess the feedback from our fans. Ultimately, that’s all we measure ourselves on. We want to be relevant to the OEMs [manufacturers]but if we are relevant to them and no one is looking, then they look at us and think, ‘Why are we doing that?'”

First look at NASCAR’s new EV prototype.

Bob Pockrass writes about NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has covered motorsports for decades, including more than 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpocket race.

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