MAX is heading for its competition debut in (gulp) less than three weeks. It’s not exactly a warmup for the Auto X-Prize … in fact it’s a whole ‘nother genre. It’s Escape from Berkeley (by any non-petroleum means possible). So sure enough, we’re going to perform yet another fuel change and run MAX from Berkeley to Las Vegas on raw vegetable oil.
Fickle, aren’t I? Why don’t I pick one fuel and settle down? Because in my opinion, the specific fuel is less important right now than the efficient use of fuel in general. I’m as eager as anybody to use wind generated electricity to charge the cheap lightweight batteries in my Detroit-built electric car, but it’s not going to happen today. Even in the long run, the energy war will be fought on many fronts, and us humans may be looking for alternative fuels for a long time to come. Mother Earth News provides coverage of the alternative fuel scene, and I’ll be your reporter for this alternative fuel event. And there’s no place better to observe automotive competition than from the driver’s seat, MAX will enter the Escape event.
Notice I’ve said “event,” rather than “race.” I’d like you all to look very serious while I tell you this is not a race. We’re going to be on public roads and racing would hardly be appropriate. This is a timed rally, the goal will not be to get there first, the goal will be to get to the checkpoints exactly on time. We won’t know what those times will be — we won’t even know where the checkpoints will be — until shortly before the event begins, but we do know we won’t have to break the speed limit to get there because that would be wrong. And now that that’s settled, we can put on our game faces again.
The rules are pretty simple. No petroleum fuel allowed, a tiny bit of your non-petroleum fuel to get you started, and you can’t buy any fuel along the way. Every drop/kilowatt/wood chip of fuel must be begged, mooched or otherwise scrounged en route. It’s a three-day event, taking us over high mountains and low deserts, entrants include everything from biomass burners to hybrid bicycles. You’ve got to ask yourself, is anybody going to have a problem staying under the speed limit as they climb to Yosemite? I think for us entrants, it’s going to feel a lot like a race … like an open road race of a hundred years ago, when a 55 mph speed limit was a futuristic fantasy.
Not only will this be MAX’s first race — I mean competition event — it will be its first extended outing with two people on board. As a responsible adult, I’m adding a few safety features.
Here’s our new MAX back from the DMV — where it was declared officially an automobile, hooray! Note the new roll bar and back brace combo. It’ll sure pay for itself in the unlikely event that MAX turns over like an SUV, but it’s also there for the more likely event of getting hit from behind. The rear legs also protect the fuel tank, which on most Locosts and Lotus Sevens, is hidden behind a thin layer of sheet metal … but you know what? I think I’m going to leave the back open so tailgaters can see the fuel sloshing around in there, maybe they’ll give us a little more room. They’ll never guess that the fuel is vegetable oil, and no more explosive than tailgating a grocery cart.