Get set for the comeback of the humble billycart. The gravity powered vehicle which inspired a million motor racing dreams looks set to become the star attraction of a new world series - the Extreme Gravity Racing Series. Extreme Gravity Racing events are currently being staged only in the United States, but the ambitious plan calls for an international series of Extreme Gravity Machines (aka billycarts) racing downhill in beautiful settings around the world - essentially a silent version of Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One circus - the biggest drawcard in international entertainment.
We all love an ambitious venture, particularly a bold long shot that brings home the gold. The Extreme Gravity Racing Series is one such ambitious venture - to get it going, the organizers had to enrol the world's leading manufacturers of internal combustion-engined automobiles to build an advanced vehicle WITHOUT an engine.
The 2004 series has six major automotive manufacturers involved - Porsche, Volvo, Mazda, Bentley, Nissan and General Motors.
The aim for the automotive manufacturers is to demonstrate design acumen via their efforts and build intelligent environmentally sound brand values, in a corporate hospitality environment. The first glimpse of the designs has allayed any fears that the event might be watered down in any way. The extraordinary and exquisite designs released last week by the aforementioned teams have only served to whet the appetite.
The Nissan Gravity Racer for example, is constructed of carbon-graphite tubing covered with a translucent canopy, so we can see the computer-generated CNC milled aluminium knuckles, and runs on wheelchair racing wheels with smooth tires inflated to 160 psi to reduce rolling resistance.
The Porsche soapboard (a word combining the concepts of soapbox and surfboard) racer is a three-wheeler with a carbon fibre monocoque chassis and has an aerodynamically shaped windscreen that cleverly conducts the airflow around the prostrate pilot for optimum aerodynamics.
Few details are known of the remaining four entries other than the design sketches released on the official series site, with the entry from the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center presenting an intruiging design inspired by the VMCC's "human centric, Scandinavian design approach where form and function are integrated toward an elegant result." We'll be bringing a complete rundown on the series to Gizmo readers as soon as more details are available.
In the meantime, it is interesting to contemplate the unique elements which go toward creating this new form of entertainment that seeks to pitch itself to a more corporate audience than the normal extreme and downhill events which are strongly associated with caffeine and adrenalin youth marketing.
The event could be staged in some prominent locations as the series adapts equally as well to a hilly inner city location as a ski resort in summer - all that's required is a steep strip of tarmac more than a mile in length.
Securing prestige names such as Porsche, Volvo and Bentley will certainly ensure the event has credibility with the upmarket audience it seeks, but it appears to have appeal to spectators of all ages thanks to its proletarian ties and relevance to several generations of backyard engineers who fashioned their own gravity racers. The billycart is an icon. It has inspired many a youngster with the joy of fashioning machines from ingenuity and wood and nails and anything else available. We suspect that the appeal of the gravity racing concept may well thrive on the special regard males the world over have for the humble gravity racer.
The billycart is often the first construction to be attempted by a boy - the first attempt to take a concept through to reality, and many a young man has gone on to a lifetime in the pursuit of this noble art.
Last but not least, it offers an equal playing field. Gravity favours no-one and whereas attempting to take on Michael Schumacher and Ferrari for the Formula one title requires a budget of stellar proportions (Toyota reportedly spends more than a billion a year on its F1 team), a gravity racecar designer has reasonable access to all the same technologies.
The 2004 event was held on the weekend of August 21/22 and was won by the General Motors team from the Porsche team.