Exactly 10 years ago, September 27th 2012, Ecotricity and Stroud-based racing driver Nick Ponting made their mark in the record books. Ecotricity founder Dale Vince wanted to smash the stereotype of electric cars as ‘something Noddy would drive – slow, boring, not cool.’
A team of motorsports engineers who had previously worked for McLaren, Williams and Lotus F1 teams developed the Nemesis from a Lotus Exige road car. The biggest problem was finding space for the batteries, motors and controllers. There was also the problem of a battery management system which couldn’t be bought at the time, so it had to be made from scratch. Nick Ponting recalls the build-up to the record-breaking drive:
“Around ten years ago you’d struggle to buy an electric vehicle with any kind of performance. If you wanted a family car, a Nissan Leaf was pretty much your only option and if you wanted to go quickly in something premium… well you couldn’t. So instead of waiting for one of the big manufacturers to come up with something, someone took it upon themselves to crack on and make their own. It’s not exactly hard to guess who.
“In June 2012, sometime into the development of the Ecotricity Nemesis, I began talking to Dale Vince. Looking back at our first email chat, it brings back fond memories and some goosebumps. I initiated the chat as I took a natural interest in what he and the team were creating. I remember it well – a Sunday morning. I wrote a message, sent it and didn’t really expect to hear anything back.
“Within an hour Dale replied. By the end of that day, it was clear this could work for us both and I was lined up to drive the Nemesis (subject to lots of ongoing chats and meetings with the team who were building it to make sure it worked for both parties). Then came the unanswered questions; how fast can we get this thing? At what point does it come off the ground? How quickly will it stop? How stable will it be at top speed? So many unknown questions but I was trying to tell myself, ‘It’s all part of the excitement and anticipation.’
“Testing began in July 2012. Checking in with the team that summer morning was the first moment I remember thinking ‘wow this is actually happening.’ Usually, it’s a racing car in the garage with an engine running in a noisy environment. This time, a disused runway, the rarest electric vehicle in the world (one of one) and (they won’t like me saying this) an understandably anxious team.
“Jim Router (chief engineer) walked across to say, ‘Nick, let’s do it.’ The belting-in and mirror check procedure seemed to take forever and to say I was nervous would be the understatement of 2012.
“Acceleration like nothing else, a unique noise as you got faster and faster. My heart rate was high and even on the first test run where we hit just over 100mph I remember this feeling of relief. We can do this.
“The schedule for the day was to build up slowly but within three runs we were up to 140mph which would have beaten the existing record anyway.
“On run four it could have all been over though. For the record to stand the MSA take an average speed over a mile, meaning we couldn’t just hit our top speed and back out of the throttle. That’s the easy bit. But instead I had to hold the Nemesis at its top speed for a mile, so I went for it.
“The balance and ultimately the (lack of) weight resulted in zero feel through the steering wheel as we nudged 150mph. Steering wheel goes completely light, front of the car is being lifted up so I gently touched the brakes which twitched the back of the car out. A moment which told us there was more work to do.
“With one day of testing complete, we made the decision to go straight into the record. Brave or stupid? At the time I didn’t really know but we wanted to just get on with it. We could have spent all summer developing the car but overall we felt fairly comfortable and knew the core changes that were needed. Media interest began and we did plenty of chats for radio and television.
“Fast forward to the night before the record – a cold bleak evening – 26th September 2012. A quiet little hotel round the corner from Elvington Airfield, in Yorkshire, famously where Richard Hammond had a heavy crash in a drag car.
“We drove to Elvington together and Dale wished me luck but he had appointments with various TV and radio channels.
“With millions of people watching across the world, we were ready. Belted in, I sat at the end of the runway with reports coming in that a herd of deer had crossed at the 1.5-mile mark. Instructions to clear them off came quickly and I had the words from BBC World News Correspondent John Maguire: “Nick, this is John – go, go, go” (something I’ll never live down).
“To ratify the record we had to go in both directions. Arriving back at the centre point, TV crew waiting, Dale looked nervous but happy. We got the news that we’d broken the record – live on TV too.
“Dale then encouraged me to go again, and we managed to squeeze out a few more mph to hit an average of 151mph, a new UK EV Land Speed Record.
Bought from eBay and designed to ‘smash the stereotype’ of electric cars, I am still truly thankful for the opportunity from Dale and take my hat off to him for taking it upon himself to follow through with the costly and timely development of an electric vehicle at a time when they represented less than one per cent of cars on the road.”
The Nemesis, which cost £750,000 to build, is now part of the Science Museum Group’s collection.