Drake Pfeifer, Hays freshman, and Soobum Kim, a Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science student from Namyangju, South Korea, both technology studies students at Fort Hays State University, competed in ElectroRally races in Scott City and Beloit.
"These guys did very well and I am proud of them," said Joseph Chrétien, assistant professor of technology studies. "The team was responsible for getting the car ready as well as everything that goes along with it."
Pfeifer and Kim have been working to transform an old car into an electric racer running only on battery power. They did all the mechanical work with the motor, gears and wheels as well as designing and building the car.
Kansas high school and college teams design, build and race electric vehicles (EV) in the ElectroRallies. EVs are single-driver, lightweight, aerodynamic, high-efficiency electric race cars with three or four wheels of 16" diameter or larger. They are powered by deep-cycle, lead-acid battery packs with a maximum weight of 64 pounds. The ElectroRally competition is based on time and distance. The race is won by the team that completes the most laps in one hour.
Strategy is as important as speed: Drive fast to do more laps or go slower, conserve battery and last the whole race. EVs can reach speeds in excess of 30 mph and travel a distance of 25 miles within an hour.
Most Kansas ElectroRally teams build their cars from the ground up using lightweight components such as aluminum frames and bicycle wheels. Motors and controls are generally smaller versions of the same technology used in full size EVs. With only a few rules and guidelines, the student teams are allowed much flexibility in the design and composition of their vehicles.
"In the first race in Scott City, the farthest any car got was 50 laps, and we pulled 31 before running down the battery," Chrétien said. "We got a flat tire as we were getting off the track."
The most recent race, in Beloit, ended much the same way. The team was on track to finish in the top three when a flat tire ended their run.
"It’s a very competitive experience, a rush of adrenalin as you passed by others going speeds of up to 40 mph a couple inches off the ground. You feel as if you’re flying," said Pfeifer. "Overall, it’s a fun experience that takes a lot of team work, practice and determination."
"With each race, we are learning what we have to do to make a race winning car," said Chrétien.