Every racetrack has one: the problem neighbor. Some have lived there all their lives, others have moved in recently, but all like to complain. The consequence is that noise meters are a sad reality of modern motorsports.
Today, though, the neighbors of Britain's Thruxton road course have nothing to grumble about. Although there's an "unsilenced," 160mph racecar accelerating down the main straight, the place is eerily quiet.
When Citroen unveiled the electric Survolt at the Geneva auto show in March, it was just that: a show car. But, in six months, its development team, led by Bertrand Dantec, has turned the Survolt into a working reality. While there remains just a single example, Citroen is confident enough in its electronics to let me have a few laps of Britain's fastest circuit.
Considering the speed-shrinking expanse of Thruxton, the Survolt feels encouragingly quick. Two inboard, rear-mounted electric motors provide the equivalent of 296hp, which is channeled via a single gear ratio to the rear wheels. There are paddle shifters, but these are simply there to reverse the drive.
Citroen claims 0-62mph in 5.0sec, and up to about 100mph the Survolt feels every bit as quick as a Porsche Cayman S. Acceleration tails off once it's into three-figure speeds, but not to the degree it does in the Tesla Roadster, because the Survolt not only has more power but is also lighter. A steel framework provides the basic strength, on to which a carbon fiber floor and body panels are mounted. The Survolt weighs 2,424lbs, of which 617 are accounted for by the two lithium-ion battery packs. For optimum weight distribution, one is behind the cabin, the other under the driver's feet.
Although the Survolt hints at the prospect of a sporting electric Citroen road car, currently it is a pure racing car, and the more immediate possibility is a one-make race series (although it's not confirmed). In competitive use, Citroen claims that the 62kWh battery capacity is sufficient for 25 minutes – enough for a short sprint race.
While it is obvious that the French automaker still has a fair bit of setup work ahead of it if the series is to go ahead (it might also be an idea to replace some of the carbon fiber panels with something cheaper), it is also clear that it has a sound platform from which to start. The structure is rigid, and the suspension – from an F3 car at the front and an LMP2 at the rear – provides plenty of control. Or at least it will when teamed with the slicks the Survolt is designed to use, rather than the street tires it is running today.
The Survolt beautifully combines wildly futuristic looks and the charms of electric power – instant torque is something you can get hooked on – with a conventional approach to stopping and turning. Unlike the Tesla, when you release the throttle the Survolt doesn't immediately slow under regenerative braking, making the limit handling much more predictable. Similarly, the brakes are easy to modulate, even when the regeneration kicks in.
Not before time, it seems Citroen has awakened to the need to harness both its heritage in unusual design and its current WRC success, first with the GTbyCitroen, then the production DS3, and now with the potential of an electric race series. If ever a series befitted a support slot at next year's Monaco GP, it is the Survolt's. And none of the residents would complain about the noise.