Electronic vehicles (EVs) are making headlines as they become more affordable and their batteries increase in efficiency. While EVs grow by leaps and bounds in the consumer market, they’re surging into the off-road racing arena as well. Among the challenges are an electric vehicle’s current range and keeping engine temperatures down during races.

Embracing Charge
“I think the off-road community is in position to embrace EVs because they’re the pioneers of everything,” says Justin Herrmann, Strategic Racing Designs’ lead fabricator and EV project manager. He’s quick to point out that when people are testing new designs and innovations they often try to race them at the legendary Baja 1000.

“We built the first all-electric race car and the SRI-EV1 is an absolute rocketship,” says Herrmann. SRD teamed up with EVWest, the company that designed the Pike’s Peak racing vehicle. “Our major intent in building this vehicle was to prove what electricity can do. We can run about 60 miles on wide open terrain and although we ran it on twin DC motors, it’s more efficient on AC.”

Blazing Trails in Baja
The trailblazing car was entered in last April’s NORRA Mexican 1000 and performed admirably, but unfortunately didn’t have the financial backing for adequate batteries. The lithium ion batteries they used are $16,000 per battery pack and the vehicle requires two. “We had to do the special sections because we couldn’t continually race and they allowed us to put it on the trailer and charge it,” explains Herrmann.

EV West owner Michael Bream is enthusiastic about the possibilities of off-road racing for electric vehicles. “We continually talk to people who share our enthusiasm for racing and motor sports,” says Bream. “EV West doesn’t try to come off as a green company. We have specialty projects and we’re focused on making one of a kind, electric, high performance vehicles.”

2013: A Tipping Point in Racing
Bream has a racing background and believes that electric drivetrains will render some motorsports nuisances a thing of the past. “We have a BMW we race in endurance races and it has no noise issues like gas engines,” he says. “Electricity is cheaper to store and cheaper to transport and electric motors are far simpler than traditional ones. We’re taking baby steps with the batteries – they’re getting better, lighter, and lasting longer.”

According to Bream, “This last year an electric motorcycle beat all classes at Pike’s Peak so this year was a tipping point. I bet in five years time you won’t be able to race a hill climb motor sport without being electric,” he says. Although he believes that off-road racing is tough to infiltrate and it may take years, he’s certain it will someday happen.

Rubicon Express race driver Jason Scherer races in off-road events like King of the Hammers and he recently won the final Ultra4 race of the season in Arizona. “Electric 4x4s would be interesting,” says Scherer. “Electric motors make torque almost instantly and the ground clearance and fewer drivetrain parts that could break by putting motors at the wheels would be great.”

As off-road racing evolves, electricity-powered vehicles could become game changers. If off-roaders are truly the pioneers that Justin Herrmann envisions them as, it may only be a matter of time before EVs make their presence known.

David Beran is a Copywriter at 4WD