Electric 'Buckeye Bullet' aims for speed record

Electric 'Buckeye Bullet' aims for speed record
The Buckeye Bullet is photographed on Aug. 23, 2010 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A team of Ohio State University students that set out to build the fastest electric car on the planet is heading home with a broken clutch and a big grin.

The Buckeye Bullet was clocked on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats at speeds averaging 307 mph, which could set a new record if it is verified by the governing body of motorsports. The old record for an electric car was 246 mph.

"We've been at this for 16 years now and have our newest lithium-ion powered vehicle out," team manager David Cooke said by cell phone from the salt flats, about 100 miles west of Salt Lake City. "Our vehicle was capable of going much faster."

The effort to reach higher speeds ended after three runs Tuesday, when a clutch that connects the powerful motor to a gearbox ripped apart. The team tried to install a new clutch overnight but couldn't get the old one off. Test runs started Monday at slower speeds.

"Now its time to pack up our pits and head back to Ohio!" the Buckeye Bullet team said Wednesday on its blog.

The car was designed by Ohio State's Center for Automotive Research, which is refining technology for electric cars of the future.

"They have just kicked the butt of every car company in the world," said Louise Ann Moeth, an observer who has written books on racing history at Utah's vast salt flats.

It wasn't hard to beat an 11-year-old electric speed record with improvements in battery technology. The Buckeye Bullet used nearly 1,600 compact lithium-ion batteries, the kind that power laptops.

The record might have been broken years earlier, but electric cars are an obscure category in auto racing and few are interested in developing a battery-powered streamliner when piston-driven cars go much faster, said Dave Petrali, chief steward for U.S. Auto Club and a timer for the international motorsports body, the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile.

"It takes a lot of power and a huge battery pack" for an electric car to attain high speeds, he said.

It could take a few weeks for the FIA to ratify the Buckeye Bullet's record. But there was no doubt it broke the previous record, set in 1999 by Pat Rummerfield, who conceded defeat and congratulated the Buckeye team, Petrali said.

A professional driver drove the Buckeye Bullet on runs Monday and Tuesday. Track sensors measured the vehicle's speed. The fastest run at 307.905 mph on Tuesday was an average of back-and-forth runs.