Venturi Automobiles targets to reach 400 mph (over 600 km/h) with their 3000 hp strong electric vehicle this week. The current speed record holder is eager to put the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 in motion after their previous attempts got canceled due to storms. ElectricAutosport.com previews the event at the Bonneville Salt Flats with team leader David Cooke, explaining what the speed record programme stands for, their ambitions, what they’ve learned and the electric vehicle outlook.
Venturi collaborates with the Ohio State University. The partnership functions as a strategic R&D initiative to provide students a unique experience to extend their engineering education. Cooke is a 29-years-old graduate student from Columbus, Ohio, and has completed a Bachelors and Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Business Management.
ElectricAutosport.com asked him a few questions ahead of the ultimate record attempt.
What are your main responsibilities and tasks as a team leader?
My job as a team leader is to see that the whole programme comes together. I have primary technical and administrative responsibility for the team. In general that means keeping track of the technology and research, schedule, budget, partnerships, and programme operations. We are a small team, so all the members take on many roles. I try to fill in wherever it is needed. From spreadsheets and financial planning to machining and fabrication, to powertrain simulation and testing. My job is very different each day, and I love that.
The VBB3 was ready last year, but weather conditions prevented setting a new record. What have you learned from last year that will help the team to achieve 400 mph?
With this vehicle we are pushing the limits of technology in energy storage, electric motors, motor control, aerodynamics, and on many other fronts. Last year everything was very new and we were at the very beginning of optimising all of this technology. We were able to do some low to mid-speed testing and this experience was extremely valuable. We brought back a lot of data that has allowed us to spend this year optimising the powertrain. We have also continued to test our powertrain on a test bench and the whole vehicle at a low-speed test track, to continue our quest to push the technology to its maximum potential.
Is there an ultimate goal in terms of speed or is it more important to show the world what an electric powertrain is capable of?
With the car in its current configuration, the goal is to reach 400 mph. This would be a huge step for the team. No electric cars other than ours have ever been to 300 mph and only about 10 wheel-driven (gasoline) cars have ever reached the 400 mph mark. We believe in the near future an electric car could go faster than its gasoline counterpart and maybe even be the first to 500 mph. But we’ll save that for VBB4!
What role do the students have in this project? And why is it important to involve them?
Ohio State has a 22-year history in the development, testing, and racing of electric vehicles. We have had electric vehicles on the Bonneville Salt Flats for the past 14 years. During all that time, these programmes have been based on completely volunteer student run programmes. Engineering students become involved with the team to apply their classroom knowledge in a very exciting hands on experience to push the limits of EV technology. Over the years we have found ways to get students some class/laboratory credit, and to retain students to complete graduate degrees focused on specific research areas of the vehicle.
It is the passion and the drive of the students that have pushed this programme to where it is today. The students have primary design responsibility for the vehicle and the majority vehicle systems are manufactured and integrated into the vehicle by the student team. Working with key technology partners such as Venturi Automobiles for the powertrain and A123 systems for the battery pack has allowed the team to take their operations to the next level and implement the latest technology throughout the vehicle.
How important are the driver’s capabilities? Piloting a vehicle capable of 400 mph must be challenging?
When everything is going well the VBB3 is not a difficult race vehicle to drive. The track is long and straight and the vehicle requires minor inputs. The key function of the driver is to be a living part of our data acquisition system. While an average driver might be so overcome with speed he completely forgets the run, our driver Roger Schroer can get out of the race vehicle and completely replay the run to the team. He helps us to understand how the vehicle is performing and where to look in the data for issues. He has an excellent feel for vehicle dynamics and powertrain performance. The other key moment to have an expert in the cockpit is if something goes wrong. Keep in mind at 400 mph the vehicle is covering a mile every nine seconds. At some events the driver only has two or three miles to stop the vehicle, so a split second hesitation can mean life or death.
Venturi Automobiles is an expert in high performance and high efficient powertrains. How important is this partnership?
The Venturi partnership has been the key that allowed Ohio State University to take our programmes to the next level. Venturi’s passion for electric vehicles, experience in vehicle design and racing, and technology in electric powertrain coupled with our vast experience in land speed racing and automotive research and development has been the groundwork of an excellent partnership that has led to the creation the VBB3.
How do you see the market for electric vehicles developing over the next five years? And how soon would it meet usual standards in terms of range?
I think the hybrid and electric vehicle market will continue to grow at a huge pace in the coming years. The public is ready for and even demanding less emissions, higher efficiency and more sustainable solutions. I would argue that range is not a problem for electric vehicles, cost is. It is not difficult to produce a battery pack that could get an equivalent range to conventional vehicles and eventually to fit it into the space of a conventional vehicle is possible with modern batteries. But the problem is that it is a very expensive battery pack and in most cases the public is not ready to pay 50% more for a car with the same capabilities just because it is green. It is our jobs as engineers to continue to develop the technology to allow alternative energy powertrains to compete on all levels, including cost, before they will be a widely adopted solution. The work we do each day with the racing programme pushes the technology to new limits, and helps the consumer products of tomorrow.