High-speed Tesla shakes up 3000km Australian desert car race

High-speed Tesla shakes up 3000km Australian desert car race

The 3000km race outback race from Darwin to Adelaide will feature a number of green vehicles, but none as high profile as Internode CEO Simon Hackett's Tesla all-electric machine

Forget the price of oil, The 2009 Global Green Challenge is a race that even Mad Max would have been proud of, as contemporary gas guzzlers are traded for more ecological alternatives, including electricity-only cars and of course - sleek, solar versions with aerodynamic capsules that look straight out of the pages of a futuristic comic book.

In less than three days, 'eco-revheads' from around the world will gather, flaunt over the latest technologies and ready their mighty machines for a desert spectacle that crosses 3000km of sun baked tarmac all the way from Darwin's Parliament House to Adelaide via the Stuart Highway.

This year, the race has a new element.

Starting Saturday 24th, 35 eco-designed vehicles and 40 solar cars from 15 different countries will compete in two distinct categories: The World Solar Challenge, which has been running for a number of years and suitable for vehicles completely powered by the sun, and the Eco Challenge, a new category added to enhance the green credentials (and thrills) of the race.

It's also one segment of the Global Green Challenge that best caters for an array of electrically-charged and alternative fuel-hybrid cars - some of which are already in production.

Owing to recent advances in battery technologies and worldwide growth in green 'zero-emission' vehicles, The Eco Challenge is rich with high profile contenders, but none as instantly identifiable as the world's fastest all-electric car, from Silicon Valley's Tesla Motors.

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The Tesla Roadster will be driven by Simon Hackett, CEO of Internode

Internode Managing director Simon Hackett will temporarily trade fibre optics for steering wheels, and the hectic world of the broadband industry for the sun baked Australian outback, by entering his prized Tesla Roadster in the race. 

Being a right-hand drive model, Hackett had to get special federal approval to use the US-made car in the race. Fortunately, for all his trouble, the car is no golf buggy pushover. With top speeds of 200km/hr and a rapid acceleration of 0-100km in just 3.9 seconds, it's not just the fasted electric car in Australia (if not the world) - it's also the only Tesla in Australia.  

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The Tesla Roadster can be charged under a 240 power supply in under 4 hours.

Hackett's love for electric cars dates back to the time when he first drove the GM EV-1 around the streets of America, when these low pollution models were considered the next big thing, before most of them were promptly destroyed - and later made popular in the documentary 'Who Killed the Electric Car?'.
And while most motorists would be stuck with the hassle of paying expensive petrol prices for such a long trip, the Tesla only needs to be plugged into a standard 240 volt power supply to continue its daily race journey.  The Energy Storage System, or ESS as the Tesla refers to its battery system, usually charges in less than 3.5 hours at 70 amps.

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Internode Managing director Simon Hackett trades broadband cables for racing stripes with his all-electric entry in the Eco Challenge

Simon Hackett has revealed some detail about the car in an interview with ABC 891 radio (a transcript of which has been provided to us). "It's driven off the energy equivalent of 1000 laptop batteries. It really is Silicon Valley's answer to the motor car. It has got lithium ion batteries in it, the same sort that a laptop uses, so you just plug it in at night and in the morning you have 390 km of range and you go driving", he told ABC 891 radio.

Much of the Tesla's total weight is taken up by the batteries, which weigh a massive 450kg - more than most of the lightweight solar machines racing alongside in the Solar Challenge.

During race stages of 300km to 700km a day, the Tesla will be expected to charge at night when the race stops for drivers to rest, refuel and sleep.

Hackett is optimistic that battery swap initiatives such as Better Place, which operates a battery drive-through in Denmark and Israel, will also take off in Australia. The Victorian Government  and the Macquarie Group have already began such talks.

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Tesla hits the outback roads, ready for the big race

Hackett told ABC Radio that in the next five years, there will be 10 different companies to purchase an EV from in Australia. But its the battery that's the game changer, says Hackett.

 "What has changed is batteries. In the last 10 years, it's literally laptops that have made the batteries cheaper that have got the range to work properly," Hackett said.

By splitting the challenge into two distinct vehicle categories, any thoughts of unfairness resulting from the increased performance power over the solar models is eliminated.  Acording to Hackett, the expansion of the race comes at a moment when we should be thinking about changing the current transport paradigm. 

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Tesla's bulky battery pack might weigh 450kg, but it does get almost 400km range from a single charge. *Image Source: Teslamotorclub

This is the first time the race has expanded to include the non-solar models and its something Hackett belives was long needed. 

"The actual solar cars racing in it are still not practical road vehicles for everyday use. There's a mass of panels under a very aero shape body. This new part of the event, this expansion with the Global Green Challenge, is designed to drag conventional manufacturers into the frame here and encourage them to connect that "esoteria" into something that you can really drive", Hackett told the ABC.

Automotive big guns
However, Tesla is unlikely to be the only big automotive name in town. A number of other large international brands will be taking to the road, including Kia, Skoda, Ford, Hyundai and BMW's new Mini.

Locally based Holden will also be entering Australia's latest fuel efficient family car; the Sportwagon 3.0 SIDI model incorporating new SIDI technology.

Top Gear Australia, the local version of the international hit motoring show, has even entered a motorbike into the race, albeit with a twist. Their Honda 'postie bike' will run completely off alcohol based fuel and will be ridden by James Stanford.

So between alcohol powered mail bikes, European electric hybrids and Hackett's all-electric sports speedster - this is one race that can only get better as the technology improves in the future.

To follow the race, go to The Green Challenge website for more details.


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