Electric go-kart racing making inroads in Metro Vancouver
A company called G-Zero Racing wants to hold high-speed electric go-kart races in Vancouver
High-speed racing is making a return to the Metro Vancouver area, but the new events aren't going to look much like the Molson Indy, which was cancelled in 2004.
The idea is to swap out the million-dollar gas-fuelled Indy cars for much cheaper, smaller and quieter electric go-karts.
A company called G-Zero Racing is kicking off its Championship Race Series this year, with stops confirmed in New Westminster, Whistler and Nanaimo.
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G-Zero's teams manager, Adrian Johnson, said the company is hoping to add events in Vancouver and Richmond, but so far, it hasn't been given the green light.
"Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for the powers-that-be to give the final OK on that," said Johnson. "This technology, it's silent running really. It's just a lot of speed, not a lot of noise and [it's] very green, very friendly."
Johnson said G-Zero is expecting delivery of 10 electric karts from an American producer, which will be sold to local teams for about $17,000 each.
"They're not the fastest go-karts in the world, but they don't need to be. I mean, this is another class of racing that we're introducing, and we hope it can be able to grow by being able to participate in it, in an urban environment," said Johnson, who calls the battery-powered machines the "Tesla of go-karts."
Start up challenges
Johnson said G-Zero tried to start the racing series last year, but ran into some bumps on the road in terms of funding.
Charles Gauthier with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association thinks the idea of reintroducing racing to Vancouver streets is worth considering, but he said the proposal would have its share of challenges.
He remembers when the Vancouver Molson Indy shut down and the opposition that event faced.
"There was some opposition from nearby residents at the time, and I think there was also a bit of a rub with the values that the city has, in terms of not promoting the car culture," said Gauthier, who pointed out that the neighbourhood around False Creek was quickly changing at that time, with the advent of Olympic Village and various residential developments.
Vancouver Molson Indy, for its part, blamed struggles with securing sponsors for the event's demise, another challenge highlighted by Gauthier.
But Gauthier said the electric racing may go over better with officials than the noisy Indy races of the 1990s and early 2000s, so long as the right location can be found.
"Vancouver's been pretty supportive of promoting the electric car," he said.
Vancouver still on the fence
While New Westminster officials said the only issue for them is determining exactly where and when the race would shut down some of its streets, Vancouver is a little more reluctant.
G-Zero wants to hold the race at Queen Elizabeth Park, adding a hill climb element to the competition. A Vancouver Park Board spokesperson said they're still assessing the proposal, but have some reservations, specifically questions around safety and impact on the neighbourhood.
Johnson admitted there's a risk associated with competitive racing.
"It's a sport. I mean, it's safer than hockey," he said. "People do get hurt, yes, sure. But like I say, in my mind it's safer than hockey."
Johnson hopes his fledgling race series will take off this year and eventually draw enthusiastic spectators like White Caps and Canucks games.
"Just come and watch. It's not going to hurt your ears, it's not going to hurt your nose. It's going to be friendly to the environment. It's going to be something that's fun to see."