By Bill Wood
Steve Pruitt of Corsa Motorsports has spent millions of his own money to bring a hybrid sports car prototype to the American Le Mans Series. And he’s getting little help despite all the cries for green performance and technology.
It sounds like he’s even getting little help from Zytek, the British company that made the hybrid conversion but delivered a car with things rubbing together – a difficult reality when you’re battling demons and dead ends.
I talked with Pruitt as he took a break from the thrash to get the car ready for Friday practice at Lime Rock, where the ALMS is racing this weekend. The frustration was obvious in his voice. Making the world’s first ethanol/electric hybrid sports prototype, the Ginetta/Zytek GZ09-SH, is difficult even without the demons and dead ends.
“It has the potential to have a huge impact on our sport. Then the question becomes, ‘What do we do with this technology?’ The ALMS is the only non-spec series left. It promotes innovation, as opposed to stifling it by making you use the same tires or the same engines or the same whatever it may be.”
But since the car’s debut at Miller Motorsports Park, he’s had to overcome FIA rules that questioned the homologation of the straps holding down the KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) batteries. It took until last Friday to get that approval.
“We didn’t know if we’d be able to race this weekend,” Pruitt told me Wednesday.
As he fought that homologation battle, the car was shipped back to Zytek in the UK, where more development work was done, but the prototype arrived with problems that required the Corsa crew to take it apart again and rebuild it for the race.
Before that, the car spent time in front of the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., where it was invited for a show-and-tell. But imagine Pruitt’s frustration when he found out more than $300 million in grants were being handed out last Monday to agencies who were trying to find answers Pruitt had in hand already.
When he pursued a grant of his own, he was told the government didn’t want to fund a project that had a test vehicle. Go figure.
On the track, the car proved competitive in its debut at Miller in May. Even though Pruitt wasn’t allowed to use the KERS system because of the strap homologation issue, the car kept up with its LMP1 competitors even with the additional “dead weight” from the non-functioning KERS hardware.
This onboard weight issue is the reason why most KERS developments are happening in sports cars instead of F1. Sports cars are bigger, heavier, and have more room for the KERS hardware.
As for Corsa, its car should be more than competitive this weekend – a short track with tight corners would seem to be tailor-made for anything that will boost low-end torque like is possible with KERS. Pruitt’s success could have far-reaching implications on racing’s future despite the mixed (at best) results of KERS technology in F1.
To hear more from Steve Pruitt, check out this audio podcast
.Video of the Ginetta/Zytek GZ09-SH prototype