Driven to succeed
Driven to succeed
|Magazine Section:||Our People, Our Culture
|College or School:||CoE
|Article Type:||Issue Feature
|Feature Intro:||A homegrown electrical vehicle project that started in the basement of Grant Chapman's family home in Zionsville, Indiana, could someday find its way onto racetracks around the world. And, ultimately, into consumer showrooms.|
Chapman and fellow ME student Drew Westrick took fall semester 2012 off to work at Indy Power Systems, a small grid-energy based company. That's also when they formed EVC Racing, a company that specializes in the design and manufacturing of high-performance electric race vehicles and components. They partnered in the enterprise with Tony "Danger" Coiro, a 2012 physics graduate, who has since moved to South Africa to work for Hope Energy, a startup company that will build microgrids and renewable energy for rural parts of Africa.
From the beginning
How did the dreams of two teenage boys grow into a startup business that has garnered attention from auto manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada?
Like many teens, Chapman and Westrick longed for "the car" they would buy at age 16.
Chapman purchased a 1992 Nissan 300GX from a family friend. Like any "testosterone-filled 16-year-old male," he wanted to make the car go faster. He immediately set about rebuilding the twin turbo-charged engine, boosting the power from 200 horsepower to a whopping 500 horsepower that could rival the speed of a Ferrari.
Westrick, too, shared a fascination with fast cars and he supercharged his engine and added other modifications.
"As soon as I realized if I could dream it, I could build it, I realized this is where I belonged for a career," Chapman says about his plan to work in the automotive industry upon graduation. Then the Great Recession happened and the big three auto companies struggled.
The summer before he arrived at Purdue, the University received a $6.2 million grant from the Department of Energy for electric vehicle education. About six weeks into school, Chapman walked into Neil Armstrong Hall and saw a go-kart frame with a cardboard mockup of a motor that was similar to the motor he had built in high school.
That's when he met Coiro and Westrick. Together they founded the Purdue Electric Vehicle Club. In 2012, they entered their first electric go-kart in the Purdue evGrand Prix. Driven by Jimmy Simpson, the vehicle blew away the competition. They did that again on April 20 at this year's Purdue Grand Prix, competing against gas-powered vehicles.
Chapman says their battery pack, weighing two-thirds less than other kart batteries, coupled with Simpson's skilled driving, secured their win.
Igniting a spark
Greg Webster, who has a Vancouver-based company, hopes to start an all-electric go-kart race series. He invited the pair to show their vehicle at the Vancouver Auto Show in March. At the show, they received attention from both attendees and auto company representatives.
Because the engines don't make noise, they don't break city noise ordinances, so this opens up a realm of possibilities for electric go-kart racing in major urban settings. Racing in a downtown location, like Vancouver, will bring thousands of fans to a festival-like event that creates higher visibility for companies producing the electric karts, Chapman says.
Webster purchased one of their karts, and they have kept the other for research and development.
Chapman says there are a couple of people on a waiting list to purchase a kart, which will retail in the range of $12,000 to $15,000 and can be customized. Though slightly more costly than gasoline-powered vehicles, the karts produce no emissions and don't have multiple moving parts that can fail, like their conventional cousins. Engines for conventional karts have to be rebuilt every race.
"Our kart has one moving part — the rotor inside the motor," Chapman says.
"They used to say ‘Racing Sunday, showroom Monday,'" Westrick says of technology that is founded in race cars. The lessons they have learned about building more efficient all-electric karts someday can be applied to consumer cars, they say.
"What we're trying to do is push the current technology to its limits," Chapman says. But it's not just finding current limits — they want to go well beyond. "We hope the technology we build will be in your car in 10 to 20 years."
Testing their mettle
At the Vancouver show, the pair met top go-kart racer Nick Neri, who invited the team to visit tracks in Palmetto and Ocala, Florida, offering to "put the kart through its paces," Chapman says. Getting there from Vancouver proved a challenge. That's when Westrick used problem-solving skills he's learned in engineering.
"Our battery pack got caught in customs and due to the delay, it wasn't going to make it to Florida for an event immediately following the auto show," he says. Instead of panicking, he called their battery supplier and had them rush a new battery pack overnight. The pair drove the new battery pack down to Florida for track testing.
Neri, 17, drove the Honda Formula Atlantic car at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2012. Formula Atlantic is a high horsepower, high downforce formula that, along with Indy Lights, is just one step below Indycar. He was impressed with EVC Racing's speed and technology.
Many top race car drivers in Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR had their beginnings in go-kart racing. Chapman says the Electric E Formula 1 series, set to debut in 2014 in Austin, Texas, will boost attention for this new technology. They will attend the race to promote EVC Racing.
Westrick says they plan to expand and grow their vehicle production to bigger and faster forms of race cars.
"Once we are able to prove our business model and build a market, we hope to expand our electric racing platform into the bigger competitive racing series," he says. "It's my dream to one day compete in some form of an electric Formula 1 race."