The 2019 Formula Drift (FD) season is now underway, and one team is out to shake things up with an electric drift car. The Napoleon Motorsports outfit has put 2018 Pro 2 champion Travis Reeder behind the wheel of a 2019 Chevrolet Camaro EL1 named “Freedom One.” As if the name wasn’t enough of a hint, beneath the carbon fiber bodywork is a drivetrain reminiscent of a Tesla. Yes, this is an electric drift car “We are definitely redefining the word ‘hot rod’ here,” says Joe Napoleon, of Napoleon Motorsports.
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Before you start smashing your keyboard and throwing your monitor out the window, hear us out. Formula Drift has the most diverse field of cars of any motorsport today. It makes the competition interesting and pushes drivers and teams forward in their efforts to realize the best combination for drifting. What’s more, the FD organization fully supports creative solutions to slide cars and that absolutely includes electric drivetrains.
Don’t let this freedom make you think that there are no rules because there are many, including several regarding the retention of production elements to cars like subframe and suspension points. Like all well-organized racing organizations, safety is also a huge factor. The team at Napoleon Motorsports are well versed in these practices because for the past five years they’ve been building cars for the Trans Am series.
In less than six months, the EL1 car was put together by a group of highly skilled experts in the racing and electric vehicle industry. EV West was able to provide the controllers for the inverted and magnetless Tesla motors that drive the rear tires. Having no magnets allows for less friction, resistance, and power loss allowing for the 38.4 kWh of power to keep up with the competition. To speak in relatable, fuel-burning terms, this car makes 515 hp as it sits now, though Joe Napoleon claims there’s more left it. That is a relatively low horsepower number when the rest of the FD field is making power in the 1,000 hp range. However, because electric motors have all of their torque from zero rpm, with the just a flick of his toes, Travis can turn solid rubber into a cloud of smoke. “It’s a torque square, not a torque curve,” joked Travis at the FD season opener. “It has about 800 lb-ft of torque.”
For safety, the car is fully compliant with the FIA’s Formula E criteria. Despite this, the car was unable to make runs at FD Long Beach. This came down from the Long Beach Fire Department which was not equipped to handle the particularly dangerous elements that come with a high-powered electric vehicle. However, this past weekend at Orlando, the car was able to make a pass as seen in this video recorded by FD judge Ryan Lanteigne.
Short of the motors and batteries, which are located under the hood to comply with FD rules, the chassis is all Camaro. Fellow FD driver of SLR Speed, Chelsea Denofa, helped develop the control arms while BC Racing stepped in for coilovers. “We are keeping to what’s commonly known in FD,” says Joe Napoleon. “There is no excessive suspension geometry and the weight distribution is similar to other cars in FD.” This car is right on par with the overall weight in the neighborhood of 3,000 pounds, and with 800 pounds of batteries in the nose, EL1 has 51-49 weight distribution.
The EL1 and the Napoleon Motorsports team are breaking all kinds of barriers with this new build, yet their philosophy behind it is sound. “We take this first time out as a very big responsibility not only to the safety of the drivers but the safety of the fans,” says Joe Napoleon. “Being a racer myself, I know what it’s like to bring experimental stuff into a series, and it’s really awesome to have a series that’s open minded to that. But there’s a big responsibility to put the driver’s minds at ease. Let’s face it, none of us really know what it’s going to do so we are kind of like the Mythbusters.”
This project also helped rewrite the rules in FD’s rulebook to accommodate for an EV drivetrain. “All of the drivers are just as interested as we are,” says Travis. “FD likes it and are welcome to us. We were pretty transparent with them. We worked with them, they worked with us.” As aforementioned, the team was unable to run the car at Long Beach but brought the car out to Orlando last weekend for some practice. Unfortunately, during practice the car was developing some intermittent issues and the team chose to pull Travis’ S13 240SX out to run instead. In the Top 32 he ran against Ryan Tuerck and his Gumout Toyota FT-86. During his chase run Travis straightened out in the center section of the track and on his lead run he over rotated, putting an end to his race weekend.
Like it or not, the electric future of motorsports and transportation is drawing closer. Sure, it’s really weird to see this, or even the E-COPO Camaro do their things with no engine noise, removing a key sensory element of motorsports, but we are hard-pressed to not be intensely curious about the ingenuity, creativity and engineering behind cars like this. Stay tuned to HotRod.com to see how former FD Pro 2 champ Travis Reeder does behind the wheel of the Napoleon Motorsports Camaro EL1 in the 2019 FD season!
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