Date article: 10/01/01 Source: http://www.e-kmi.com

By Heather Latham

AIt was a gray and damp August morning as the Gravitron Electric Racing Team headed off on their 2000-mile round trip to Austria to participate in the EVN Cup, the grand finale in the Solar and Electric Cup, Europe’s annual alternative energy series. The series offers the opportunity for alternative fueled vehicles to race in official FIA-sanctioned races. Classes include motorbikes, prototype road cars production cars and of course, KARTS. The largest class of the EVN event is always Category V – karts in the 0-180kg range.

Teams from Germany, Hungary, Italy, Finland, Switzerland and Austria participated, but Gravitron has been the only United Kingdom entrant for the past four years. The Italians usually attend in great numbers, but this year Gravitron had the largest single team entered in the karting category. Overall there were 25 karts entered.

EVN is the largest electricity supplier in North Austria and is the main sponsor of the event. It is organized by the OAMTC, Austria’s equivalent of the UK’s RAC, with the racing organized, scrutineered and officiated by the FIA. UK’s Motor Sport Association’s (MSA) Peter Todd usually attends and this year spent time with the Gravitron team and Greenmotorsport discussing bringing a leg of the Solar and Electric Cup to the United Kingdom and the formation of a new electric racing class as well.

Gravitron’s Electric Racing Team was headed by Doctor Morgan Nicholas, in his 4th year at EVN. Debut international karters included: Luke “Cool Hand” Roberts, the driver of Gravitron’s speed record vehicle, “The Predator”. Other were Alan Thornton, newly appointed Sales Manager at Gravitron, Heather Latham, Sales and Marketing Director, and Oliver “Ollie” Welton, currently third in the British MSA EKC Clubman championship. Gravitron’s Sally Thornton also supported the team. Greenmotorsports’ Raz and Gordon Foat attended at Gravitron’s invitation to evaluate the event with a view to promoting electric racing in the UK. Greenmotorsport was also Gravitron’s official appointed photographer.

The team arrived tired but excited on Thursday evening, having driven through the night, stopping only for necessities. Friday dawned and the temperature climbed into the 90’s. Karts were unloaded and charging began. Each individual team was responsible for hooking up to the free electrical supply to charge their vehicles. As you walked through the paddock, stepping over cables by the dozen, other teams stopped to talk, even those who did not speak the same language—when there is a common interest communication is always possible! The atmosphere in the paddock was filled with anticipation as everyone prepared for the first look at the course. Different styles of karts were on display and everywhere you looked people, were working on their vehicles. Unlike anywhere else, here all nations are prepared to share their experiences, tools, spare parts and advice.

Friday 4:30 PM and we went off to scrutineering (Pre-tech to American readers), confident that everything would be okay. At the weigh-in neither Ollie or Luke made the minimum weight of 240kg for kart and driver, and so had to add ballast to their karts. After passing scrutineering, the team managed to grab some unofficial practice time on part of the track. This was a chance for the team to have some fun and let off some steam. The karts were all running well and Gravitron’s drivers were all feeling confident even though Heather was decidedly nervous! This was her first international event and she was the only lady entrant in her class. Friday evening gave everyone the opportunity for some rest and relaxation—a well-earned break.

Saturday morning and free practice was scheduled for 7:50 AM. The course was 1.1Km with a good fast straight, a hairpin and a very bumpy stretch just before the chicane. The first corner after the start/finish line took the karts over a bump that left most airborne; it certainly made for interesting driving and viewing. After practice, the teams all complained about the bumpiness of this part of the track and went to the OAMTC track officials to lodge a protest; despite this, the drivers were bubbling with excitement and anticipation. Back in the paddock, adjustments were made to the set-up of the karts and batteries were charged. At 11 o’clock, the teams were told that the track layout had been changed to eliminate the severe bump and there was a further unscheduled practice at 12:00 noon. The new track layout was tried and tested and received approval of the drivers.

Qualifying was scheduled for 3:20 PM and would decide the grid position for the first race on Sunday. The pressure was on to complete the set-up. Tactical discussions about who was going out when continued; finally the Gravitron drivers were suited and booted and ready to go. Everyone gave their best; some were held up in traffic while others discovered that perhaps their set-up was not quite right. Back in the parc-ferme (impound area), the teams waited for the official results to be posted. Morgan Nicholas had put in a blistering fast lap—only 100th of a second behind the pole position, he was to start 2nd on the grid with the others qualifying 8th, 18th, 21st and 22nd. There are two races for each category; the overall winner is the driver with the highest number of points accumulated from the two races.

In addition to the racing, there was plenty of entertainment for the teams and the audience. A huge video wall transmitted the racing as it took place and in the intervals, the stage show entertainment was displayed. Music and commentary blared out over the PA system. There was food and beer tents galore, an inflatable playground, electric rental karts for adults and children, alternative fuel vehicles on display and available for test drives. Drivers are well catered for sat this event, with everyone receiving vouchers for meals, drinks, coffee and snacks. All in all, the atmosphere of the event is that of a well-organized, exciting and high-class race meeting.

EVN Cup 01

Sunday was “Race Day” and despite the forecast of rain, the weather was scorching. The crowds arrived and the television crews were set up; the racing was to be shown live on Austrian TV. The first kart race was at 9:00 AM—it was already hot as the teams attended the driver’s briefing. The teams pushed their karts out onto the grid to save every watt of precious battery power and get into their start positions. Electric karting is one of the only kart events that offers the opportunity of a Formula 1-style grid start. It introduces an increased measure of thrill for both drivers and spectators. FIA officials did their final checks on the grid to ensure that driver’s helmets had their certified stickers and that the karts had all the pre-tech inspection stickers. The grid was cleared of cameramen, team supporters and officials. The 10-second board was held aloft, then the 5-second board than the red light came up one-by-one until all five were lit. There was a hush of anticipation as the lights went out and the karts sped off to the first corner. But disaster! As the grid cleared, Gravitron’s best-placed driver—Morgan Nicholas, was still there! We later discovered that a drive sprocket had sheared due to the huge amount of torque produced by the motor and he was forced to sit out the race as the others steamed past. On the 7th lap, sparks started coming from Ollie Welton’s motor and half a lap later it was clear that the motor was on fire. Sadly another member of the team was out of the race. Alan Thornton spun out of 14th place at the hairpin, rejoining in 18th place.

EVN Gravitron

The pace of the racing was fast and furious. Luke Roberts made some impressive maneuvers while overtaking. The battle for first and second position between Italian Mazzonni and Austrian Theurer was well filmed by the TV crew and made brilliant viewing for the audience. Mazzonni was able to maintain his pole position, while Kurt Theurer fell back to 3rd place when his batteries depleted. The OTL Italian Team took second place.

Unlike petrol karting where fuel consumption is not an issue, electric kart racing requires the driver to race tactically, conserving energy by coasting through corners, accelerating smoothly and using the brakes as little as possible. Roberts was driving conservatively but by the end of the race, he had lost 2 places and finished in 10th position. He was frustrated with this result but was better able to pace himself for the next race. Heather Latham had aimed to complete the race without a mishap and was happy with a very creditable 17th position while Alan Thornton finished in a disappointing 18th.

EVN race start

Back in the pits after the karts had been released from the parc-ferme, it was all hands on deck to replace Ollie’s motor, check Alan’s brakes, change Morgan’s sprocket and change all batteries. Due to the fact that neither had completed the first race, Morgan and Ollie had to start at the back of the grid in the second race. Consequently strategy and tactics for the team were hot on the agenda. It was decided that Heather, Alan and Luke would continue to race to achieve the highest placing they could but Morgan and Ollie would put on the fastest and best display that they could to impress the crowd. The penalty for this would be loss of energy near the end of the race and the elimination of a high finishing position.

The karts lined up on the grid for the second race. The commentator began to get excited. The video wall showed the drivers getting on their helmets and sliding into their karts and the viewing stands were filled to capacity. Again, the 10 and 5-second board, then the lights and they were off. Nicholas shot up through the grid, Welton followed closely behind. By the first turn they made up more than ten places and the race was on. Nicholas and Welton had a lap long tussle before they were able to get past 2 Italian karts. One was blocking the track while his teammate attempted to do the fastest lap of the event, for which there is a separate award. Nicholas and Welton managed to claw their way up to 3rd and 4th position and stayed with the leaders for a majority of the race. From the stands it was possible to see most of one side of the course and watch the karts gather for the chicane with their tyres (tires) screaming for grip and the drivers battling for position. The rest of the race was watched on the video wall. Everyone gasped when another kart came in contact with Welton on the right hairpin; they both careened off course. A third kart arrived on the scene of the accident at speed. That kart's tires came into contact and it rode over the top of both of them, landing on the front of Welton’s kart. Ollie Welton pushed the offending kart off, got out and check his kart for damage and amazed everyone by climbing back in and rejoined the race. He managed to complete the lap, but had to concede defeat and stop shortly after the finish line due to considerable damage to the kart. He made a memorable retirement with a bow, a wave to the grandstand and huge applause.

Meanwhile, Roberts, Latham and Thornton had managed to dodge past the accidents, spin-offs and breakdowns and were doggedly cutting through the field. Roberts made some spectacular overtaking moves through the chicane, while Latham and Thornton’s steady driving gained them several positions. Austrian Kurt Theurer came in 3rd using Gravitron’s drive system and at the end of the race, Roberts finished in a fantastic 4th place, with Nicholas coming in 10th despite his show off tactics and loss of battery power. Latham drove to a 13th place finish, Thornton to 15th and Welton 19th even after his retirement. Team members were disappointed at not getting onto the podium but that’s racing. There’s always next year!

Gravitron at EVN