TG's big Jaguar I-Pace test part 4: can it win over petrolheads? | Top Gear
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TG's big Jaguar I-Pace test part 4: can it win over petrolheads?

EVs rule at drag races, right? TG introduces the battery'd Jag to a Santa Pod shootout

Published: 03 Aug 2018

Uh-oh. There are plenty of folks here who want their own back. See, electric cars have been taking the mickey a bit when it comes to drag races. Particularly since Tesla went Ludicrous, the trope of taking a battery-powered saloon to a drag strip and annihilating a fuel-swigging supercar has become a well-worn internet furrow. Today could be payback. The Jaguar I-Pace is by no means the quickest EV on sale, and petrolheads smell blood.

Even if an EV makes sense financially and practically, can it culturally win hearts as well as minds? That’s why the I-Pace finds itself glue-tacked to Santa Pod’s Pro Peak Performance start line. How do folks with metaphorical petrol in their veins and literal ethanol up their nostrils take to a battery-powered imposter in their world of V8s, nitrous, and exhaust pipe volcanoes?

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Cagily. I join the queue alongside a Mustang with headers sprouting through the bonnet like a mechanical tribute to that scene from Alien. Picking my way down the line is mainly a hazard-perception test, because no-one who works on a machine that’ll give your kidneys tinnitus expects a car they can’t hear approaching.

A Mexican wave of amused frowns follows until I arrive next to Simon Gough’s Racepak Camaro. Its driver looms over, pokes his baseball cap through the open window, and delivers his verdict. “These are f***ing brilliant for drag racing, I f***ing love innovation.” “But do you reckon electric cars are the future – in drag racing?” A gurgling, burly laugh. “Hah! I f***ing hope not, mate.” Right.

Early days. Ice broken, more interested parties surround the Jag. They’re taken with its stubby looks, and impressed at its long-wheelbase packaging, but to a man, everyone’s disappointed when I reel off the spec – ‘only’ 400bhp and 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds. They’d hoped for under 2.0sec “like the Teslas they have here sometimes.” Small wonder popping ‘Tesla drag race’ into YouTube’s search bar yields over 617,000 results – twice what ‘Dodge Hellcat drag race’ returns.

We file towards the start line. Lots of attention now. EVs have a big future in drag racing, is the consensus, ‘but only for juniors’. They’re quick, quiet, cheaper on maintenance and way safer if your offspring springs off the strip. But for seniors? They’re married to their fire-breathing engines – for sport. Plenty are interested in an easy-going EV for everyday mooching – and towing their prized racecars. In the ultimate cauldron of no-replacement-for-displacement, battery cars are finding friends. Time to do the tech justice.

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But Santa Pod ain’t going quietly into that good night, and my volunteer opponent is fan-favourite 'Fast Freddy' Fagerstrom, in his 1966 Chevy C10. His supercharger alone swallows 600bhp, but that’s okay when the 8.5-litre V8 develops 2,000bhp overall. Freddy, now 58, has been racing this truck since he was 15. It runs six-second quarters and 1/8th-mile burnouts. Whatever, sunshine. Mind games engage. “I’ve got four-wheel drive”, I remind the Swede. “I think V8 is still the future.” he shrugs.

Easy for him to say. His V8 is so big it doesn’t fit in his car. It’s so powerful the car is pretty much capable of time-travel. He could take his truck to the future, if he wanted. The I-Pace, meanwhile, is Jag’s first crack at the whole next-generation EV thing. Yes, it’s great that Jag got it to market before Audi and Mercedes. But I can’t help thinking it’ll be caught up quickly, and the real proof of the I-Pace’s quality will be determind in about three years, when buyers have a multitude of choice for their posh, quick-ish plug-in family motor.

Right then, let’s get this over with. Freddy has rolled back from a burnout that ceased somewhere around the eighth-of-a-mile mark, and his truck’s fidgeting on the spot, grumbling and chuntering and spitting fuel from several orifices. I switch the Jag’s radio and air-con off in preparation. It’s a useful placebo that all my power is being harvested for maximum acceleration. Got to be worth a tenth or two, surely?

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Dynamic mode is selected. The digi-dials are backlit in red. That’s easily worth half a second in any drag racer’s book. Traction control disabled. Good. Now regretting switching off the air-con – it’s rather stuffy inside the I-Paces glassy cockpit in the afternoon sunshine, and Santa Pod have insisted I wear my fireproof suit, which makes me look like a low-rent Deadpool cosplayer.

The Jag doesn’t get away well. As the Christmas tree flashes green, I lift my left foot from the brake and flatten the throttle. Getaways are almost painfully easy in the electric age. But unlike a Tesla, which leaps away with the instantaneous fizz of a rifle bullet, the Jag’s onboard computers appear to require half a second of thinking time. “Oh crivens old bean, you’d like the full beans, would you? Right then, let me just pop that into the equation machine, speak to Mr Traction Control, and yes, that all seems to be in order. Off you go then.”

In that fractional pause as the maths is worked out and the Jag rears up, my opponent hasn’t so much accelerated ahead as exploded into a different time zone. Never mind, he might have a blowout, or a tankslapper, or just break down. Far too many moving parts and hot bits in those V8s. Everything’s still to play f…oh, Freddy’s finished. Whoops.

The Jag runs a respectable 12.775sec at 106.5mph, impressing the locals. Freddy screamed under the gantry at 220mph in a wall of noise ‘n’ vapour five seconds earlier, to whoops from the crowd, after pebbledashing the Jag’s serene face with sticky rubber marbles. We’re beaten, but not as unwelcome here as I’d feared. Good job too: this is a fabulous corner of motorsport. The cars, the people, the sheer unhinged bravery and comradeship. What a superb scene to be part of. Best of three?

Read part 1 of TG's big Jaguar I-Pace test here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. Stay tuned for part 5, tomorrow...

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