New EV prototype front and center of NASCAR, ABB partnership announcement

(Owen Johnson

The watchwords are community, sustainability and electrification.

Those concepts comprised the primary thrust of Saturday’s announcement of NASCAR’s partnership with ABB, a global leader in electrification, and simultaneous unveiling of the ABB NASCAR EV Prototype in the Fan Zone at the Chicago Street Course.

ABB is the first partner of NASCAR IMPACT, the sanctioning body’s platform promoting the mission of strengthening its communities and contributing to a healthier planet.

The ABB NASCAR Electrification Innovation Partnership will play a large role in helping NASCAR reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions over the next decade.

“NASCAR IMPACT is an umbrella platform that spotlights sustainability, community engagement and other important social initiatives across our sport,” said Eric Nyquist, NASCAR senior vice president and chief IMPACT officer.

“At the core of NASCAR IMPACT is our sport’s commitment to reduce our carbon footprint to net-zero operating emissions by the year 2035.”

Let’s be clear. NASCAR remains committed to the historic role of the internal combustion engine in racing. Hence, ABB NASCAR EV Prototype is the first step in an open-ended process with a variety of possible outcomes, as NASCAR experiments with different power trains.

“It’s the biggest project NASCAR’s ever done,” NASCAR senior vice president of racing development John Probst said of the latest innovation from the NASCAR Research and Development Center team.

The prototype unveiled on Saturday is a Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) with an electric motor that can generate a maximum of 756 direct current volts and 1,000 kilowatts of peak power. The chassis is made of steel tubing with a bolt-on front clip and front and rear bumpers.

Because the vehicle has no fuel cell, there is no rear clip. Hence, the prototype measures 185.5 inches in length versus the 193.4 inches of the current Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series race car.

The all-wheel-drive ABB NASCAR EV Prototype, however, is heavier—roughly 4,000 pounds compared with 3,485 for the Next Gen.

It’s also symbolic of the initiatives that provide the foundation for the historic partnership.
“What we do is help accelerate this energy transition by working with companies to become more efficient as they optimize their operations, as they electrify their operations and ultimately make their operations sustainable to a net-zero impact,” said Mike Plaster, ABB’s lead business manager for electrification in the United States.

“As we look at NASCAR and this car as an example of their technology achievement, it’s part of a larger partnership between NASCAR and ABB. Finally, NASCAR has a rich history of performance and innovation and community engagement. That makes them just a great partner.”

The prototype was developed in collaboration with NASCAR’s OEM partners—Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota—and was built by the NASCAR engineers responsible for the Next Gen car and the Garage 56 entry into the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Throughout the process, NASCAR and the OEMs collaborated on the design elements of the vehicle.

“It’s the reason we race,” said Eric Warren, executive director, GM Motorsports, “to introduce fans to new cars.”

“We’re going to go in that direction (EV),” added Ford Performance’s Patrick DiMarco, “putting our drivers in ‘em.”

Former NASCAR Cup Series regular David Ragan tested the ABB NASCAR EV Prototype on three different tracks—the temporary quarter-mile at the Los Angeles Coliseum, ZMax Dragway at Charlotte and Martinsville Speedway.

The laps Ragan ran at Martinsville were within a half-second of race speeds for the Next Gen car. One major difference between the cars is the absence of drive gear changes on the EV car. The CUV prototype features just forward and reverse, but the acceleration is intense.

“The throttle is more responsive than what we have now,” Ragan said. “It’s just instant torque. There are literally hundreds of adjustments with the power/torque curve and the distribution between the front wheels working and the rear…

“They found the sweet spot to where I could get through the center of the corner and mash the gas. You’d better be pointing the right way, because that baby is going to accelerate. That was when the kilowatts were turned up to over a thousand horsepower… The acceleration was incredible.”

NASCAR currently has no plans to launch an electric series. Rather, the development of the ABB NASCAR EV Prototype is a door opening to further innovations. As NASCAR explores options that coincide with the future directions of the OEMs, Probst hopes fans will keep open minds.

“Presentation’s everything,” Probst said. “I think, though, if you look at… take when we launched the Next Gen car. We went from five lugs to one. Everybody was saying, ‘Oh, no, the pits stops are going to look all different…

“But you get in the (prototype) car, and the acceleration and the braking of it blows you away. So I’d just ask our fans to give it a chance, learn about it, experience it, and I think that then we’ll make judgments and ask for feedback.”

That feedback will help guide NASCAR’s future with EV.

“I can’t say as we’re sitting here today that we’ll introduce a series,” Probst said at the unveiling. “But I can say that we are here—and I use my automaker friends here as an example—this ABB NASCAR EV Prototype was built to go out and demonstrate what this technology is capable of, and we look forward to hearing from our fans what they’d like to see out of it.

“We’re here for the journey.”