The Chevy Volt Goes To The Races

I took the Chevy Volt to an autocross today. Not to compete; just to show the flag, so to speak. I was curious what certified gearheads would have to say about Chevrolet’s first electric car. Would they reject it? Make rude comments? Exclude me all together?

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I needn’t have worried. As it turns out, most of the racers on hand were quite interested in it. That included Anthony Ricci, the founder and director of Advanced Driving & Security, Inc, the host of the event. ADSI rents an abandoned runway at what used to be Quonset Naval Air Station in southern Rhode Island. During the week, he and his staff instruct police officers, security personnel, and limousine drivers in the fine art of steering a 5,000 lb car through high speed maneuvers without damaging anything or anyone.

Once a month in the good weather, he opens the course to racers. He likes to call it a “test and tune” day. While lap times are recorded, the objective is to make incremental improvements in your times during the day. Anthony says to try for a 1 second improvement per lap.

Two of the fastest drivers there were highly interested in the Volt. One has a yellow ZO6 Corvette with an aftermarket turbocharger. Add a coilover suspension and race rubber and the car is scary fast. It is owned by Tony, whose daily driver is an ’11 Volt. He loved the new interior and exterior styling. And of course he was thrilled that it had more range than the first generation car. I suspect he may decide to upgrade soon.

IMG_0094Others wandered by to check out the Volt in between runs. The hood was opened. Pictures were taken. People wanted to sit inside.  The consensus was that the Volt was no race car, but a car a racer could be comfortable with as a daily driver.

Toward the end of the day, Anthony asked if I would take him and his photographer around the course on a demonstration run. I had promised the folks from Chevrolet I would not beat on the car, and I didn’t. The fast cars were completing the 1.5 mile long course in about 1 minute, 29 seconds. The Volt went around — quietly — in a shade over 2 minutes.

My passengers were impressed with how quickly the Volt accelerated and how competent it was in the turns. This is not a car with a wimpy suspension like a Hyundai Excel or a Yugo. It negotiated the turns well, changed direction easily, and went where it was pointed during our one fairly low speed lap. I would rate its suspension as surprisingly competent.

During the day, I was reminded of exactly how much misinformation about the Volt there is out there on the streets. I was with people who are into cars. Their mechanical IQ is well above average. Everyone of them knows the difference between a 6 point and a 12 point socket and the advantages of each. But few could say exactly how the Volt worked. I like to think I did a creditable job of educating a few folks. I know several told me they now intend to test drive a Volt themselves. That was pretty much the point of taking the car to the event in the first place.

I only got 45 all electric miles today. Planting your right foot solidly on the go pedal uses up a lot of kilowatts. As I motored silently home, I was proud of the Volt. In the midst of all those hot shoes, it held its head high. It even set the fastest time of the day for an electric car! Today, the Volt was a true champion.

Photos by the author.

 

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.