Drive a Hybrid? Race It at the Fuji Speedway!

The Fuji Speedway had a slightly unusual race last month – instead of supercars going super fast, rows of perfectly normal hybrid cars lined up for a two-hour endurance race called the Summer Eco Car Cup 2011.  The race is held every year in August, and anyone with a hybrid car is welcome to participate. Oh, and the car has to be one you can buy at a dealer – perfectly normal hybrid cars only.

The Eco Car Cup is supposed to be quick and fun, not use much fuel, and above all it should be safe. Each car has to make three pit stops and drive at least 31 laps within the two hours, but no lap can be completed in less than 3 minutes 15 seconds. Without the minimum lap rule, drivers can simply drive as slowly as possible to use the least amount of fuel and guarantee zero fun for the spectators. Driving speed ends up between 37 and 62 mph, about what the cars would normally drive through city roads and onto the highway on-ramp. At those speeds, even a total beginner can fearlessly race and have fun.

Only the starting grid positions were determined purely by speed – cars with bigger gas engines such as the BMW X6 Active Hybrid and Lexus LS600h were the quickest, followed by cars like the CRZ. Last on the grid came Insights and Priuses (Prii?).

Since points are assigned for both finishing grid position and amount of fuel burned, finishing first doesn’t necessarily guarantee winning the race. Each driver must decide whether to try to conserve fuel and accelerate more slowly, or try to make grid position a priority and press the pedal to the floor (without undercutting the minimum 3’25” minute lap time). This year’s race saw rain drench the speedway during the second half of the race, but it wasn’t quite wet enough to call a halt.

The winner this year was the Dome Racing Team, whose car completed 37 laps (2.84 miles/lap) to go a total of 105.08 miles and used only 2.57 gallons of fuel (that’s 40.89mpg!).

Anyone with a hybrid can drive – and maybe even win. Good luck next year!

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Charis Michelsen

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.