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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Electric car conquers grueling rally

FOR the first time ever, an all-electric vehicle has finished the Dakar Rally, one of the most tortuous races on earth.

The famous off-road rally – formerly known as the "Paris-Dakar Rally" – covers some 9,000 kilometers of rough and, at times, deadly terrain that stretches across Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay.

The race is open to amateur and professional entries; amateurs typically making up about 80 percent of the participants.

The four major competitive groups in the Dakar are cars (which range from buggies to small SUVs), motorcycles, quads, and trucks.

Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, and rocks. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800-900 kilometers daily. The rally can be extremely hazardous with some 70 deaths since it started in 1979.

Most entries are gas-powered, but several years ago, a new entry in the Dakar took a totally different approach, and instead brought an electric vehicle to compete. After three years of trying, Spanish renewable energy company Acciona, with its all-electric car, named Acciona 100 percent EcoPowered, survived the blazing heat and shifting sand dunes to complete the 2017 rally.

The EcoPowered draws on a 250 kW (340 hp) synchronous electric motor, attached to all four wheels through a six-speed sequential gearbox. There are six fast-charging lithium-ion batteries totaling 150 kWh within the chassis, supplemented by a 100-W solar panel on the roof.

Each battery pack can be charged individually for faster pit stops, crucial in the fast and furious world of racing, while low-rolling resistance tires help to improve range.

Although it finished 57th in class this year, simply crossing the line in 2017 made Acciona the first team to complete the rally in a car with zero local emissions. Considering more than 25 percent of all entrants failed to finish, that's no mean feat.

"The odyssey is over," says Ariel Jatón, driver of the Acciona 100% EcoPowered. "This year's Dakar was very tough, with some very intense stages complicated by the weather, and the altitude in Bolivia. It was the most grueling race in South America, so we are thrilled to have reached the finish line, particularly in an electric car."

Acciona focuses on developing renewable energy and infrastructure projects. They spent five years developing the battery-powered vehicle especially to compete in the Dakar and to prove that nothing can stop the electrification of transport.

The 2017 Dakar saw 97 motorcycles, 22 quads, 63 cars (including five SSVs) and 38 trucks – 220 of the 318 vehicles that started the rally in from Asunción, Paraguay, on January 2 – reach the final podium set up in front of the Argentinian Automobile Club building in Buenos Aires on January 14.

Peugeot captured the top three spots in the car class. French driver Stephane Peterhansel again showed why he has earned the nickname "Mr. Dakar." He finished a little over five minutes ahead of teammate and former World Rally Championship champion Sebastien Loeb. Third place went to Cyril Depres, who crossed the finish line about 33 minutes behind Peterhansel.
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