By Jens Dana
BYU?s Electric Vehicle Racing Team isn?t content with breaking records; they are constantly innovating and pioneering technology to maximize electrical motor performance.
Jeff Baxter, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering from Hillsboro, Ore., said EV1, BYU?s racecar, has a computer on board that can monitor energy levels, shift gears and even control the windows via wireless connection. The computer is only one of some of the features that will help the car set new acceleration records.
?It?s really a cool system we?ve integrated,? he said. ?The driver has a lot of load taken off. He just has to drive, and we can make sure everything is functioning correctly.?
In addition, EV1 utilizes ultracapacitors as opposed to regular battery technology. The capacitors can deliver more power and last longer than regular batteries, which maximize the EV1?s engine performance. Baxter said
BYU?s recent successes in electric car acceleration have earned the team a spot in the Electrical Drag Racing Association record books.
The race team smashed their previous record for the 400-volt class June 11, 2005 with a quarter-mile time of 14.08 seconds at 93 mph. Baxter said he doesn?t expect that record to last very long.
?We?ve been waiting for a track to open up because we are very much ready to set another record,? Baxter said.
He said electric motors have a lot more torque than gas-powered motors, so the team usually finds better parts for their car by breaking old parts. Three weeks before they set their latest record, the main drive shaft twisted right off the car when the driver pressed the accelerator at Rocky Mountain Raceway in Salt Lake City, he said.
?That was kind of embarrassing because you have to push the car off the track,? Baxter said.
By replacing broken shafts, the car will be able to exceed 100 mph and set yet another quarter-mile record, Baxter said.
Although the race team is mostly composed of engineering majors, all students are welcome to volunteer. Rachel Pollock, a graduate student studying anthropology, said she saw the EV1 on display at the Wilkinson Student Center three years ago and joined the team even though she knew relatively little about cars.
?I knew how to use your basic screw driver,? she said. ?But I didn?t know your basic sizes. I?ve never used a welder before, and I got an opportunity to learn all those things.?
Pollock said over the years she has worked with capacitor packs, redesigning the body of the car to fit the transmission system and cab modeling. Working with the race team has given her a chance to learn something outside her major, she said.
?For me, the EV1 racing team is an opportunity to learn without homework and stress,? she said. ?I?m pretty sure I will own some sort of vehicle my whole life. If something does happen to my car and I can?t fix it, I can at least know if the mechanic is telling me the truth.?
Perry Carter, a manufacturing engineering professor, said although faculty members supervise the race team, students are left to work out most of the engineering decisions on their own to help them gain confidence in their skills. One former team member got a position with NASCAR because he was part of BYU?s race team, Carter said.
?It?s a lot of benefit to students who participate and stay in it,? he said. ?But they have to be pretty interested. They have to be self-motivated.?
He also said since setting the quarter-mile-acceleration record, he has been receiving calls from people interested in using ultra capacitors in hybrid cars. Carter said it is probable people will be driving hybrids with capacitors in them.
Students interested in getting involved with the race team could go to byuracecar.com. The team also meets every Thursday at 11 a.m. in Room 245 of the Crabtree Building.