As the sun rises tomorrow morning over the Chott-el-Jerid salt flats in Tunisia, a British racing team will do battle with the record books, in a bid to claim the land speed record for an electric vehicle.
The car, ABB e=motion, will accelerate across the desert for nearly six miles before reaching the record attempt zone. This is a 1.6 kilometre section of desert over which the speed of the car will be measured.
To qualify as an official world record under FIA (the motor sport governing body) rules, the car must complete two kilometre-long runs with its speed above 252 mph. The second run has to be completed within an hour of the first.
This, then, is a little bit more exciting than a milk float race. After all, how many times do you see a milkman deploy a parachute from an old Mirage jet plane to slow his cart down...
The car (pictured below) is powered by 52 lead-acid car batteries which produce 600V DC output. It is ten metres long, 60cm wide and 75cm high. It weighs 1.6 tons, and develops 650 horsepower. The team is confident that it will beat the current record of 245mph, and say that it could even reach 300mph on future runs. Accelerating to 300mph should take driver Mark Newby just over 102 seconds.
Surely even Jeremy Clarkson would be impressed.
British steel amid the sands of Tunisia
The batteries' output is converted by an ABB ACS800 Drive and supplied to the car's two spindle motors. The car has been engineered so that full torque is available, even at a standstill. This is essential if they are to accelerate to their target speed within the allowed distance.
Once they have completed the first run and managed to stop the car, the batteries will be replaced with fresh ones so that the car can turn around and go again in the opposite direction. The car's turning circle is described only as 'large' in the list of its specifications, so we hope that this phase doesn't take too long.
The current record of 245mph was set in 1999 by a US team in a car called White Lightening. Two other high profile bids are in the offing, with a team from Ohio State University eyeing the prize with a run scheduled later in 2004, and another British team, Bluebird Electric, making plans for a 2005 attempt. ®