For years, the Paris-Dakar rally was known as the most brutal, trying and impossible automobile race in the world. The road (if it could be called a road, at times) from France to Senegal was, to say the least, tough. To attempt to match the conditions, distance and terrain, the race attracted the world’s toughest cars and best mechanics. But sometimes, just being tough is not enough. In its history, the race has claimed 25 lives.
Everything changed in 2009 when, due to security concerns and political unrest in the country of Mauritania, the rally was moved to South America. The switch did little to affect the race’s reputation for brutal terrain and punishing conditions. This year, the race was run on yet another new route, starting in Mar Del Plata in Argentina, south of Buenos Aires on the Atlantic Ocean; through Copiapó, a city in northern Chile; and ending up in Lima, Peru, a distance of more than 3,100 miles with crossings of both the Andes Mountains and the notorious Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth.
But this year, more than the route changed. This year was the first year a range extended electric vehicle not only entered Dakar, but finished.
Maris Saukans showed up at this year’s starting line in his electric-powered OSCar eO vehicle. Saukans had finished the grueling Dakar races before, but this was to be his first in the Latvian-government sponsored truck.
So what sort of electric vehicle could possibly attempt such a brutal race that sees the likes of dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, water crossings all manner of bumps, lumps and potholes? Let’s take a look under the hood: The OSCar eO is manufactured by the Latvian race car company OSC. Powered by a brace of battery packs from Winston Battery that supply 512 volts of juice, the permanent magnet electric motor is capable of supplying an impressive 422 horsepower and a maximum 590 pound-feet of torque. That’s a lot of power to blast through nasty terrain and if they can find a flat track, will generate a top speed of about 85 mph. The electric-only combo has a maximum range of around 190 miles. However, a Dakar stage can be a lot longer than that, so to keep the OSCar eO’s batteries charged, a six-cylinder engine spins a generator which, in turn, charges up the batteries.
So how did they do? Well, the good news (and considering just how punishing Dakar can be, this really is good news) they finished. The not so good news is they ended up in 77th (out of 78 finishers) in their category.
After his historic finish, Saukens told the Dakar website, “I think that alternative energies and technical innovations focused on “green thinking’ fit well into the bigger picture of the Dakar spirit. Our main goal was to prove that electric vehicles can perform as well as their well-established combustion engine counterparts.”
Photo Caption: The winners of the 2012 Dakar Rally.