By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
What started as a class project in 2011 to race an electric powered go kart has developed into a club at the Purdue College of Technology in Kokomo.
The team of students competed at the evGrandPrix on the Purdue University campus in April and finished fourth out of 19 teams. This past weekend, the team competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jimmy Simpson with the Purdue West Lafayette Electric Vehicle Club won the event on the university’s campus. He also won the gas-powered race on the same weekend.
The Kokomo team finished eighth in the fast heat competition Sunday at IMS.
Paul Kennelly, 21, Kokomo, had no experience racing, but because he posted the best practice lap times among the club members he was designated the driver.
Because of rain in Kokomo, the team turned practice laps in a parking garage on the Kokomo campus at night.
“It was interesting,” Kennelly said of competing in the race at Purdue. “We did it to have a good time.”
After getting tangled in traffic on the opening lap, Kennelly found himself starting second to last, but, like any good racer, stayed out of trouble, made up lost time and finished fourth.
“We’re going to win next year,” he said. “I may have to take him out,” he said of the winning driver.
Kevin Taylor, who teaches electrical and computer engineering at the school, said the idea to construct an battery powered kart was a junior class project.
Taylor said the students modified the kart frame to house battery packs on both sides of the driver’s compartment, installation of the electric motor and computer components.
The kart is powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries that take approximately two hours to charge. The batteries are manufactured in China and have a 72-volt charge.
Kennelly said the difference in the Kokomo club’s kart and the winning entry was weight.
“The winning kart could accelerate faster,” he said. “Since I was new to racing, I didn’t want to cause a wreck. I drove conservatively and was comfortable with what I was doing.”
Equipped with an 18-horsepower engine, the karts are capable of obtaining speeds in the 45 mile per hour range, Taylor said.
Tires for the kart are priced at $450 for a set of four.
Crew member Devon Jaenicke, 20, Forest, said he drove the kart a few times during practice sessions.
“Paul had the best times and did most of the work on the kart,” he said of why Kennelly was selected to drive.
Jaenicke said one responsibility for team members is making sure the two battery packs are charged equally and the kart conforms to the safety requirements.
Jaenicke said he saw the cart sitting in the lab and wanted to get involved. “Once I found out about the club, I wanted to join.”
The club hopes to have a second electric-powered kart completed in time for the 2014 competition, he said.