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Science and Salt – Hunting Electric Land Speed Records

voxman wattman testing for land speed record

No longer content to simply be in the market, this builder is hot on the hunt for world land speed records. Which are falling fast.

Venturi is a company based in Monaco, with a strong commitment to going fast. In 2010, Venturi bought boutique French manufacturer Voxan (est.1995) with the goal of reviving France’s motorcycle industry and building electric motorcycles bearing the marque. At the 2013 Paris Motorcycle Show Venturi unveiled the Wattman, a 200-horsepower electric motorcycle capable of 147 foot-pounds torque and zero to 160 kilometres per hour in 5.9 seconds. The bike featured several innovations including a reinforced exoskeleton rather than a traditional frame. A recharge time of 30 minutes to 80 per cent and a range of 180 kilometres made the “world’s most powerful electric motorcycle” well ahead of the curve. It wasn’t cheap and if you wanted one, they were built to order.  

Seven years later, to promote its presence in an electric market with many more players, Venturi built a special-purpose Voxan Wattman to attempt an electric land speed record for 300-kilogram electric motorcycles under FIM regulations. To bring experience and celebrity glamour to a three-day late-October testing session on airport grounds in France, Venturi lured legendary multi-time WSBK champion Max Biaggi as the pilot.

Powered by a Mercedes-Benz sourced EQ permanent magnet motor producing an impressive 367 hp behind a lithium-ion battery, the motorcycle achieved a top speed of 394.45 kmh for a partially streamlined Wattman and 357.19 kmh for a non-streamlined version (thus illustrating the benefits of aerodynamics). The average top speeds were calculated during flying-start, one-mile, two-way passes within a defined timespan. Both Wattmans set a number of other records for distance and from standing starts. As with many other speed trials including those on Bonneville, there were no previously existing category records for several of the attempts so some records were inevitable. 

Where to go for an electric land speed record?

Success has expanded the campaign as Venturi plans to head to Bolivia and the salt expanse of Salar de Uyuni for another effort in electric land speed record in 2021.The extraordinarily large salt flat (more than 10,000 square kilometres) is the flattest stretch of ground on earth with elevation changes of one metre or less across the entire plain. Salar de Uyuni has increasingly become a hot spot for land speed trials as conditions at Bonneville have been deteriorating for years and track lengths for ultra high-speed runs shortening. 

Like Bonneville, the Bolivian salt surface is kept flat by annual flooding but in the case of Salar de Uyani the salt can range in thickness from one foot to over 30 at the deepest locations. For ultra land speed attempts the seemingly endless Bolivian salt flats are without peer. The South American locale famously hosted the ACK Attack streamliner in 2017 when Mike Akatiff and rider Rocky Robinson attempted an official world speed record of over 643 kmh for a streamlined motorcycle. 

A considerable downside to record speed attempts on Salar de Uyani is the extreme remoteness of the location. While tourists, the Dakar Rally, and the mining industry (due to the vast reserves of lithium within an estimated 10 billion tons of salt) have brought increased attention to the area in recent years, this is still a tough place to reach, tucked away as it is in the Andes Range of Bolivia’s far western region.  

Despite the logistical challenge, Venturi sees an upside to a Bolivian attempt at the electric land speed record. The Salar de Uyuni offers a unique advantage to electric motorcycles (or forced induction combustion engines). Where the runs in France during October were made not far above sea level, an attempt in Bolivia will be made in the thin air found at 3,657 metres above sea level. Thinner air means less resistance and higher speed for the same power output of an electric motor not affected by the lack of oxygen. The increased speed advantage is estimated  to be up eight per cent.

As an interesting aside, another Venturi  endeavour is building an electric polar exploration vehicle capable of crossing ice and snow at -50C —a tough environment for any vehicle but especially one relying on battery power. The unusual pod-like vehicle was tested in remote areas of British Columbia presumably because there is no CAA in Antarctica.

•John Molony Canadian Biker #351


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