Under the Hood: The World's First Electric Drift Car
Who is Napoleon Motorsports?
Napoleon Motorsports was founded by Joe Napoleon, a man who has a passion for racing. In upstate New York his father introduced him to stock car racing and from that point on he had a die-hard need for speed. He moved to Texas where he founded Turnkey Industries which specialized in building trailers for the oil and gas industry. To this day, Turnkey Industries develops and services innovative products for companies such as Indy Car, Toyota Racing, Baker Hughes, Halliburton, Weatherford, etc. The success of Turnkey Industries enabled Joe to expand his motorsport endeavors beyond a family affair which consisted initially of his wife Lynne, son Justin and Joe’s right hand man Miguel Jiminez. During the winter of 2017, Ron Bergenholtz was added to assist Napoleon Motorsports in their Trans Am TA2 Program. During that 2018 year, Napoleon Motorsports two-car Trans Am Team was able to reset numerous track records across the country as well as earn a 2nd place podium finish at Watkins Glen New York, Joe’s home track. Joe and Lynne have always been a fan of drifting and often brainstormed on how to get involved. Mid 2018, Joe Napoleon and Ron Bergenholtz witnessed on YouTube an all electric BMW drifting and doing burnouts. The idea became clear that Napoleon Motorsports should create the first PRO1 all electric drift car.
How Did They Build It?
At the time they were campaigning Chevrolet Camaros in Trans Am. It was only fitting to keep the Camaro theme going. With the help of a friend, Richard Patterson, Joe was able to acquire a 2016 Camaro that was hit by a train. They needed more talent to tackle this project and enlisted the expert fabrication skills of Robert Quezada who got to work in October of 2018. They decided to emulate the BMW setup they saw on YouTube and approached Michael Bream of EV West (the guy who built the BMW). With Mr. Bream’s consultation, they used a Tesla power/drive-train unit from EV West.
Implementation of the complete unit would be quite a task for the team considering they would have to abide by the rules and regulations of Formula Drift. There was no absolute way the power unit could be fabricated into the factory cross-member in traditional Tesla style and be within the rules and regulations of Formula Drift. So, in a bold and innovative move, Napoleon Motorsports “rotated” the complete power unit forward. Originally, the electric motor is located behind the rear axle. Flipping it forward allowed the fabrication of the unit into the cross-member to be legal in the eyes of Formula Drift. They were hesitant at first but realized after disassembling the power/driveline unit that some modifications could be made internally to “rotate” the power unit. They also used an EV West controller the build. The team was learning so much about electric propulsion; considering no one on the team had ever built such a project or had an experience with electric cars. Everything about the project was so new to the team.
The challenges did not end there. They also had to source safety products for an all electric racecar. The team worked closely with Formula Drift technical director, Kevin Wells, who recommended the team should follow the guidelines of Formula E. Often, the parts associated with safety were not readily available and had to be special ordered from Europe. In addition, safety equipment outside of the racecar needed to be on-hand immediately during racing for safety. Items such as a defibrillator, long safety hooks, rubber mats, insulated tools, special fire extinguishers, as well as special water receptacles for safety trucks to connect to the racecar had to be implemented. It was a daunting task for Napoleon Motorsports considering electric racecar parts are not available at a typical parts catalogue. The amount of correspondence as well as documentation with Formula Drift was huge. Every step of the build had to be approved. Lastly, Napoleon Motorsports had to create a 44 page special Emergency Response and Information Guide handbook. It detailed all the safety devices implemented into the vehicle and how to use them. There were step-by-step protocols on how to extract the driver in the event of a crash as well as fire protocols in the event of a fire. The handbook was quite thorough and in-depth, complete with pictures and diagrams. Napoleon Motorsports had exclaimed that with the roughly 30 plus years of racing, they had never had to produce a handbook on how to handle a racecar, and at that, a 44 page handbook for ONE car.
How the Car Works
The electric Camaro EL1 is a very simple car. The primary components include an electric motor, the driveline, the controller, the inverter and lastly a 420V battery pack/Battery Management System combination. The Tesla electric motor, driveline and inverter are one package and simplify the setup. They are all mounted to the rear cross-member. The controller is located on the transmission tunnel inside of the passenger compartment. They decided to locate the batteries where the internal combustion engine and transmission used to reside so as to replicate the weight bias of a typical factory racecar.
The system works according to the following steps: The driver turns the ignition switch on next to the Controller. The “touch screen” Controller lights up showcasing parameters (temps, voltage, power, etc.) of all the major components of an electric vehicle. In addition to those parameters three buttons on the left side of the screen display the letter “R” for Reverse, “N” for Neutral and “D” for Drive. The driver depresses the brake pedal and simply presses either “D, N, or R” for the intended motion. Once intended motion is decided, the signal from the Controller is sent to the Inverter. The Inverter then processes that information to direct the desired motion to the electric motor. The 420 volts of batteries power the Inverter as well as the electric motor. All 12 volt components are powered up by a single 12 volt deep cycle battery. The system is simple and they compare it to a full scale RC car. For safety reasons, the Battery Management System was implemented with the battery pack and monitors temp and voltage of each of the 120 cells producing a total of 420 volts. They monitor each cell individually to look for any major faults in the battery system. An IPAD screen where the factory speedometer and tachometer used to reside monitors all 120 cells. The batteries are the “fuel” for an electric car and must be monitored for safety reasons.
Learning in Competition
They had done initial research and had found in "ludicrous mode" the Tesla power unit was capable of producing over 400hp and 700 lb-ft of torque. They were a little nervous in regards to the power output but kept on the path. The team thought that the instantaneous torque would be a huge advantage at the technical short courses. Despite the denial for competition by the City of Long Beach, they were able to compete at Orlando, Road Atlanta and Wall New Jersey. The team learned the hard way that the single Tesla electric power unit would not be enough to compete with the landscape of Formula Drift's 900+ horsepower internal combustion engines. Matters became worse when Napoleon Motorsports mounted a set of sticky Nitto NT555 G2 tires.
The tires produced so much grip that the Camaro EL1 was not able to drift at proper speeds. They made the decision to use Travis Reeder’s PRO 2 car for the rest of the 2019 formula drift season. They knew there would be setbacks, challenges as well as growing pains with an innovative racecar of this type. They prepared for these setbacks by having a back-up plan in Travis Reeder PRO 2 car for competition.
What's Next for the Car
Despite the shortcomings of the Tesla power-plant in the Formula Drift PRO 1 arena, Napoleon Motorsports is relentless. Further research was done, and it was decided to build a better, more powerful racecar. Plans are in the works to produce a dual motor, 800+ volt setup capable of 900+ hp and 1000 lb.-ft of torque. Additionally, data logging capabilities will be in place, specific to electric propulsion vehicles, to analyze performance. Look for version 2.0 completed for the 2020 Formula Drift season.
Napoleon Motorsports would like to thank its immediate family for all their hard work and dedication to this monumental undertaking. Joe Napoleon: for enabling all of us to do something very innovative and special. Lynne Napoleon: for allowing us into this crazy crusade. Miguel Jiminez: for being a jack of all trades and assisting us in almost everything. Burt Quezada: for his expert fabrication skills as well as mechanical abilities. Travis Reeder: for his amazing driving abilities and taking the leap into driving something completely brand new and experimental. Ron Bergenholtz: for being crazy. Richard Jemal: for documenting the trials and tribulations of the build in pictures and video. Justin Napoleon: for his assistance in marketing planning and team scheduling throughout the build.
Napoleon Motorsports would also like to thank the good companies who believed in the team and backed this experimental project: Turnkey Industries, Nitto Tire, Formula Drift, Andersen Composites, Konig Wheels, SLR Suspension, Wilwood Disk Brakes, BC Racing, Driveshaft Shop, Sparco, Health First, AEM, Parkway Chevrolet, Cascadia Motion and EV West.