The Baja 1000 is one of the most grueling, challenging off-road vehicle races in the world—less than half the vehicles that enter finish. It’s not the place you’d expect to see a bunch of solar-powered vehicles. But that’s about to change. Thanks to the new Redstone Sun Cup Challenge, a new class has been established in the race, solar-powered electric vehicles (EVs). Already the challenge is drawing interest from NASCAR drivers.
The Sun Cup Challenge won’t just focus on winning it’s class.
“We’re also going for the overall win,” said Rick Skelton, Redstone Energy Group co-founder and Baja 2011 racer. Skelton’s team finished second in Class 10 (Single or two-seaters to 1650cc) of the race.
Teams would be able to develop whatever type of off-road EV they want.
“The concept is an open portal. But it must be 100 percent powered off the grid,” Skelton said. “What better place to test something than in the devil’s cauldron?”
That means such a vehicle could have solar cells on it or a remote solar charger that charges interchangeable battery packs, or a quick charge system, according to Skelton.
“Choosing your battery partner will be one of the most important elements,” he said.
In a machismo, adrenaline-fueled environment like that of Baja 1000, Skelton worried that the new competition would be met with laughter. But he said an audience of roughly 1,000 listened intently as James Pillsbury’s, retired three-star general and Redstone CEO, introduced the challenge.
And he heard NASCAR legend Robbie Gordon ask “How much is the prize money?” as soon as the announcement was made.
“I was immediately met by four teams,” Skelton said. Already one the teams said: ‘We’re funded. And we’re in.’
The challenge will prove an interesting one in a race already famous for destroying vehicles. “Only 49 percent of the people that start reach the finish line,” Skelton said.
Electric vehicles may actually have an advantage over other vehicles in the race—EV motors can deliver a tremendous amount of torque starting from a dead stop. The torque remains constant as the vehicle speeds up, and it only needs one gear. Basically, an EV could deliver some things that a conventional gas engine can’t—simplification in terms of moving parts and continuous power.
“Racing has always shown, when someone wants to win badly enough, they’ll figure it out,” Skelton said.
Don’t expect them to overtake all others in the race—just yet.
“There are a lot of challenges, like waterproofing,” Skelton said. “Sometimes the course travels along the edge of the ocean, how are they going to deal with it.”
Is Skelton going to race an EV in the next race?
“Oh absolutely. We didn’t want to jump the gun too much,” he said. “[We’ve] started laying plans for the ultimate vehicle. It’s designed to evolve and win the whole thing—I think year one will shock and awe.”
Even if none of the cars finish. He thinks that by the second year it will attract a lot more interest and perhaps draw some big sponsors like Red Bull.
Image courtesy of Rick Skelton.