Monday, July 3, 2017

Autocrossing the Bolt?!

As some of you are aware, last Saturday I completed my "Drive 313 miles on a single charge across the state of MD" journey successfully. By engaging in light hypermiling techniques and with some elevation help, I was able to stretch the Bolt's range over 31% past its official 238 mile EPA range number! What could I possibly do to follow up such a feat? Doing the polar opposite and entering my Bolt in an autocross event!

Photo credit: Terry Krebs Photography
For those of you not familiar with autocross, these types of events are usually held in empty parking lots with a track consisting of a series of tight turns marked by cones. As you can guess, handling, acceleration (and sticky tires) are the keys to the game in autocross as opposed to raw straight line speed in a drag race. Vehicles such as a Dodge Challenger Hellcat need not apply. Instead, modded Corvettes,  Miatas, Scion FR-S's, Subaru BRZ's and the like rule the roost. And in my event's case, one helluva souped up '99 Dodge Neon!

So what was I thinking entering my totally stock 2017 Bolt EV Premier in the event? Why not! While the Bolt has the low end acceleration needed for autocrossing, its rather hefty weight (over 3,500 pounds) and unconventional shape (for an autocross event) are a couple of negatives. Racing on the Bolt's LRR OEM tires was also a huge disadvantage, as most everyone else was at a minimum running performance tires. Toss in the fact I had never participated in an autocross event.....ever, and my set expectations for myself were very modest: don't kill anyone, don't end up on my roof or wrapped around a light pole.

The only preparation I did before the event was to wash and wax my Bolt (hey, it should at least LOOK nice) and empty out any random junk that was laying around inside the car. I aired up my tires to the max (as someone recommended) and I was off to Blue Crab stadium in Waldorf, MD! As the drive was 50 miles to the event location, I didn't need to charge before the event.

If it's nice and shiny, it'll go a little faster right?! Ehhh.....
After arriving at the autocross location and checking in, I drove to the "paddock" area where all the other drivers were prepping their cars. I quickly found out that I was the only electric car entered in the event. When I went through tech inspection, one of the inspectors popped the hood, stared at the Bolt's "engine" bay for a few seconds, then went "I have no idea what I'm looking at!". Since nothing was loose that he could see, he passed the Bolt with a shrug of the shoulders.

Hanging out in the paddock
There were a total of 118 entrants in the event, and 3 heats scheduled consisting of A and B groups. As I had registered rather late in the process, I ended up in Heat 3, group B, so I ended up watching the other drivers make their runs. Before the actual event, drivers get a chance to walk the course to try and memorize the layout before making their runs. I also chatted up an owner of a 2016 Ford Focus ST. It turned out it was also his first time to an autocross event. I wished Abdullah luck, and I went off to watch some more runs.

One of these is not like the other
The format for the event was fairly straightforward. There were 3 total heats consisting of A and B groups. While group A was making their runs, the B group was out on the track to call in missed turns and replacing hit cones. Numerous cones were sent flying during the day. After group A made 3 runs, group B went to their cars while group A replaced them on the track.

When Heat 3 started, I was assigned to a section of track with 2 other guys. One of them asked me what I was driving, and I replied a Bolt EV. He then went "Oh, so you're the guy in the Bolt!". I asked them if they see any other EVs at these events, and both (including the guy that owned 6 cars total including a Miata he entered) said they had never seen an electric car at an autocross before. I asked about Teslas, but one guy responded they are too heavy for this type of event, so he had never seen one. After about 25 minutes, it was finally time to hit the track!

Car #919 ready for action
I got into the Bolt and rolled it up to the staging area. One by one, cars peeled off to make their runs. As my time approached, I started to feel the adrenaline start flowing. I was actually going to autocross a friggin' "greenie" Bolt EV! I made sure to turn off traction control as recommended by another driver, and lined up at the line. 

At this point of the story, I want to be able to say that I, a complete novice, blew away the rest of the competition of 'vettes, Miatas, 911's, and FR-S and BRZ's with the all-electric Bolt's 100% torque from 0.

You kidding me?
It turned out I placed 114/118 cars that ran that day. But I was not the worst! Moral victory! In fact, the person that was the slowest turned out to be Abdullah, who I had chatted with earlier. Sorry dude.

Below are the 4 runs I made, captured on my super crappy GoPro knockoff camera. Apologies for the crappy video. 

Run #1: went off course early, no time recorded. Doh.


Run #2: 54.42 seconds. A guy actually jumped in before the run, as his girlfriend was interested in buying a Bolt and he wanted to see what it was like. 


Run #3: 52.04 seconds. Improvement!



Run #4: 51.58 seconds. Because I was only running the morning session, they gave me a 4th run


So all in all, even though I sucked, I still had a blast at the autocross event, and met some cool people in the process. Now I am left to wonder what a Bolt with AWD, lowered springs, sticky tires, and a competent driver could do on the course...


7 comments:

  1. I don't think I could ever do that. It was hard to see the path at times.

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  2. As a Bolt owner(and former owner of a Spark EV with sticky tires) and having done lots of autocross in the past (in a variety of different classes), I think the Bolt will do very well at autocross with the addition of some sticky rubber (and some practice, of course!)

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  3. I'm interested what a Spark EV could do. With a similar 0-60 time as the Bolt plus being a little lighter, I bet it could put up decent times with some sticky tires on!

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  4. On the autocross the Spark EV may indeed be able to hold its own against the Bolt EV. However, on the racetrack the extra power of the Bolt wins. A week ago at the REFUEL event at Laguna Seca the fastest Bolt was 8 seconds a lap faster than me (both experienced drivers with sticky tires).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi,

    My name is Shiraz Ahmed and I'm Assistant Editor of Mobility for Automotive News. We'll be linking to this post in our Mobility Report weekly newsletter and I was wondering if we could have permission to use one of your photos for art with the link, with proper credit of course. Feel free to email me at sahmed@crain.com with any questions.

    Thanks,
    Shiraz

    ReplyDelete
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