Wow, what a weekend the last few days have been! As Andy mentioned in the previous blog post, team RGE attempted to drive from London to Paris on Saturday on just one charge, and then head back on the Sunday after a full charge, some nice French food and wine, and a bit of Parisian nightlife, and watching the England game of course. How different it all turned out in the end…
The adventure started in West London at around 9am on Saturday morning where I started the drive towards the London Eye for the team and public rendezvous. Despite the very stop-start nature of London traffic (the range-killer for EVs) the car did the 11.3 miles (18km) using just 4.5% of our stored energy which is very admirable for such hard city driving. At 9.59am, the car silently rolled onto Belvedere Road just behind the London Eye and was greeted by the usual open-mouthed wonderment. The rest of the team arrived shortly and we spent an enjoyable hour in the sunshine talking to the public (who had very gratefully turned up/passed by) but before we knew it, it was time to leave London and catch the ferry!
The drive down to the Port of Dover went quickly and smoothly, with the car performing very nicely. However, towards the end of that leg, anxiety began to mount over the rate in which we were using energy…our energy seemed to be depleting too fast for us to reach Paris, or more specifically, the Eiffel Tower in the centre of Paris. By the time we’d got to Dover, which was just under a third of the distance, we had used just under a third of our juice, with our state of charge sitting at 69.2% while waiting to board the ferry. So, after our first 87.2 miles (140km) there was a mood of great anticipation; the words on everyones’ lips were “It’s going to be very touch and go!”. However, a small diplomatic issue was brewing which soon put our minds off the car’s range…
Our trip was made up of a convoy of 3 cars; the SRZero, a support minivan holding 7 of us, and another vehicle driven by our friend and sponsor, Noamaan Siddiqi from Frazer-Nash. Noamaan left the London Eye shortly after we did, and he drove to catch the Channel Tunnel whereas the other 2 vehicles headed for the ferry. And so the first problem began as the SRZero rolled up the French border patrol (which is on English soil) and Clemens and Aran realised that their bags, containing their passports, were actually in a car on a train somewhere under the English Channel, and not in the accompanying support vehicle! Visions of two key team members being left at the border started emerging, and it was with baited breath that the rest of the team watched on as they approached the border to try and talk their way into France! Imagine the scene; a large tarmac area with a row of barriers guarded by stern-looking French police with very short haircuts. A strong wind coming off the sea mere metres away howled across the border zone, and the SRZero rolled silently forward…
…and it was allowed to continue rolling forward! The French police, normally with brows furrowed as they concentrate on protecting their homeland from unauthorised access, broke into wide grins as they saw the SRZero approach, and waved the car through without so much as asking for ID! Crisis #1 averted!”
The ferry journey was smooth and before we knew it we were unloading in France, on what was turning out to be a gloriously sunny day. As the SRZero disembarked at a different time from the support vehicle we agreed to meet in a car park to start the journey together. However, without sat nav and knowledge of the roads around the Calais port we blindly took the first exit from the dual carriageway and without somewhere to stop we ended up on a trading estate, feeling rather out of place! Bizarrely, from one of the adjacent buildings a whole wedding reception emerged, all of which headed straight for the car. With our limited French, and some English on their side we managed to explain what we were doing. Then the bride requested to sit in the car, so I hopped out and helped her in… surely the highlight of her day!
After a nod from Toby, I helped her back out and with some general directions we rejoined the road we left in the first place. Still communicating by text message (unfortunately the radio in the SRZero stopped working) we reunited after the toll to explain what had happened and to discuss our endurance strategy.
Halfway to Paris we swapped the passenger and driver to Alex and Pambo, and allowed Jonathan Richards (documentary cameraman) to direct some of the shots from the support vehicle. Slightly slower motorway speeds maximised our range but meant we were missing the England match, so inside the support vehicle we desperately tried to find English radio commentary on AM. We caught the first half, but eventually we ran out of signal. The rest of our time was filled with exciting documentary tales from Jonathan Richards, and calculating whether or not we would make the rest of the distance from the state of charge.
As the sun dipped below the horizon we entered the suburbs of Paris and the traffic started to pick up. Celine (the only French member of the team) became invaluable in navigating the streets, reading the signs and asking for directions. One of the roads we needed to use had been closed for the evening, and every time we came to a stop people gathered at the car. After a while of driving round in circles we finally came to a rest in front of the Eiffel Tower. We made it! And with 14% battery left. We still haven’t even had a tense finish
By this time it was roughly 12am and we still hadn’t eaten. We had our photos and interviews taken before we split up. The SRZero went to find the secure garage whilst the support vehicle went to check in at the hotel. This is where we learned lesson number two – always keep the chargers with the car! It was only when we were unloading the support vehicle that we noticed we had all the cables, by which point it was approaching 1am. We had no choice but to dump our bags in the room and head into the night to find the rest of the team.
We needed to navigate our way over to the financial district, avoiding the infamous roundabout at all costs! Paris was still very much awake and we saw some amazing sights on our late night adventure including the big landmarks and a brand new Ferrari California. Eventually we completed the maze and found the team. By 2am we were getting hungry, having had nothing to eat since the ferry! However, the only place that was close and open was McDonalds.
It was roughly 2am when we received a text from Alex explaining that the hotel didn’t have a suitable electricity supply and so we couldn’t charge up over night, this was disastrous for the team, as we had to be back in London ready for an event at KPMG HQ the next morning! Fortunately there was still 10% charge remaining, enough for roughly 20 miles out of Paris. Still we all headed to bed exhausted, planning on dealing with the stress the next morning.
After a much needed breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed over to the secure garage to inspect the situation. Following much debate we came to the conclusion we would have to tow the car back to Calais. We would use a hidden trick of electric cars to our advantage. By towing the car on the road, the wheels turn and generate energy via the motors and recharge the batteries!
Once we were clear of the stop-start traffic of Paris we hooked up the tow rope and made slow and steady progress. Quickly, Dave and the SRZero worked out a system of taking up the rope slack, smoothing out the ride. The radios were in near constant use updating the trailing car of all intentions, right down to gear changes.
Progress was tedious sticking to roughly 50mph on the motorway and the final journey time to Calais was around 6 hours in total. However, the recharging technique worked a charm and the batteries were back up to 70% for the ferry. This finally allowed us to disconnect for the final leg and the drivers could put the pedal to the metal back in England.
All in all, the trip was a great success. We had made it all the way from London to Paris on one charge! But also importantly everyone got a taste of border crossings, dealing with a different language, and keeping cool when things don’t quite go to plan. Vital lessons to learn just 3 weeks before the big one…