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Buckeye Bullet electric car rockets to possible world record

Time, change and speed? Some Buckeyes are going faster than ever after creating an electric car that might soon break a world record.

The Ohio State Buckeye Bullet team, which is comprised primarily of undergraduate engineering students, works to build green technologies that are both fast and fun to drive, according to the team’s website.

The team’s latest effort was coming up with a powertrain design to propel its latest electric car — the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 — to reach speeds of more than 400 miles per hour, according to the website.

So far, the car is on its way to meeting this goal.

OSU students built the electric car — from design to testing the aerodynamics, mechanics, electronics and controls — for academic credit and for the experience, said Giorgio Rizzoni, team adviser and director of the Center for Automotive Research.

This year, VBB-3 was set to compete during Speed Week Aug. 9-15 in Utah, but the event was cancelled because of rain, according to an OSU press release. The team didn’t hop on a plane home, though. Instead they stayed in the area to compete in a private event.

And Aug. 22, that might have paid off — the VBB-3 set the land speed record for a vehicle in class, pending certification from international motorsports’ governing body Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.

That means that within its weight class, the VBB-3 is the pending fastest electric vehicle in the world, at 212.615 mph, according to the release.

Meanwhile, the VBB-3, which is the first Bullet to feature two-speed transmission and four-wheel drive, is capable of going faster, Rizzoni said.

“The vehicle was designed to go 400 miles per hour plus,” Rizzoni said. “We’re carrying a lot of batteries, that’s why it’s heavier.”

Only 75 percent of the vehicle’s potential 1,500 horsepower per axle was utilized,  said David Cooke, team leader and graduate student in mechanical engineering. Data analysis, software tuning and car maintenance lie ahead for the team before they get another crack at the track, he said.

If the VBB-3 reaches its potential, it would be one of 10 vehicles to ever break 400 mph, and the first to do so using electric power, Rizzoni said. The Buckeye Bullet team’s work will lead to more advanced motors in the production of electric cars, he said.

The speed counted toward the record is determined by averaging the speed, but the VBB-3 actually peaked at 270 mph, Rizzoni said.

But still, several factors held the VBB-3 back on its trip. For starters, rain delayed and shortened its runs.

“(Speed Week officials) had been saying it was some of the best (racing conditions) they’ve had in years. And they had groomed it to a extremely nice course and they were real excited for what could have come during Speed Week. And literally we were getting our rental vehicles and it started to hail in Salt Lake City,” said Evan Maley, mechanical team leader and a mechanical engineering graduate student. “It’s like the gods didn’t want us to race.”

Speed Week was cancelled, though the team’s run and a scheduled visit from the FIA were set to take place right after Speed Week. These conditions left the team anxious as it waited for the chance to show off what the VBB-3 could be, Cooke said. The run was delayed for four days, he said.

Then, more issues arose. The vehicle operates with four motors and eight battery packs that must work in unison to properly run, but during the second half of the run, power shut down because the clutch was disengaged due to a motor control error, Cooke said.

“If anything looks like it might not be exactly 100 percent perfect, we prefer to say ‘OK, let’s gracefully shut down the vehicle and remove power before damaging anything.’ And so, it happened … which means it keeps coasting without (power),” Rizzoni said.

This shutdown forced professional driver Rodger Schroer to coast rather than push the vehicle further, Rizzoni said.

Before the trip, the car and many of its systems had not been tested yet, and given the weather conditions, the team knew it wasn’t going to reach its full potential. Partners and sponsors urged them to use more power given their limited window of opportunity, but the team played it safe, Cooke said.

“We took the vehicle from zero miles, where it was, to 270 miles per hour,” Cooke said. “On a short, wet track, we got to validate the car.”

Venturi Automobiles provided motors for the VBB-3, and the team also received funding from the OSU College of Engineering and several other equipment sponsorships. In total, the team has about 50 partnerships, Cooke said.

Cooke estimated it would take a private company somewhere between $4 million and $5 million to complete the same project, but the Buckeye Bullet team’s partners allow the team to spend less than half of that in cash. He said he didn’t know the exact cost of the car.

The team doesn’t have a lot of competition, Rizzoni said, because OSU has set the bar high in its roughly two-decades of racing.

“I can say pretty confidently that there is no one else who has been … racing electric cars for 20 years. This is a one-of-a-kind thing that Ohio State does,” Rizzoni said.

Bringham Young University is the only other school that has an electric vehicle racing program, but that school competes in a smaller weight class, he said.

“They do something similar … (but their vehicle) will never go as fast as ours,” Rizzoni said.

Overall and despite the complications, the Buckeye Bullet team was encouraged by its run and its advancements with the VBB-3, Rizzoni said.

“Our calculations of what the vehicle could do have been confirmed. So we think we’re on track,” Rizzoni said. “As far as the vehicle is concerned, we are very excited about it because … we could get it up to over 270 miles per hour under partial power. We never ran the vehicle at full power.”

Though there is still work ahead for the team, Cooke and Maley said they left Utah after a very memorable and satisfying experience.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results given the weather conditions,” Cooke said.

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