ReFuel races spur electric-car innovation (audio slideshow)

Engineers put their electric-car designs to the test on the track at the Laguna Seca raceway in California.

Engineers searching for ways to redefine the American car, moving away from gasoline engines and toward cleaner battery-powered electric transportation, had a chance to put their designs to the test this weekend on a big-time track, the MAZDA Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

In the coming years, production standards for battery-management systems and charging systems will emerge, and today, these innovators are experimenting with what works and what doesn't, searching for the best new methods with which to manufacture the next generation of vehicles.

The ReFuel Clean Power Motorsports Event, now in its third year, gives electric-car builders the chance to put their electric kit cars, converted classics, and prototype vehicles to work at high speeds and under pro conditions at Laguna Seca, testing visual displays, batteries, and computer systems on one of the most well-known raceways in the world.

The innovative thinkers we've met here range from at-home car converters to teams like OptaMotive, which has origins in battle-robot competitions--their heavyweight Ziggy is still the battlebot champ.

CNET spent the day in the pits alongside the track Sunday, listening to engineers describe the work they've put into motors, controllers, and batteries. These people are passionate about their work, and they say events like Sunday's are important for spurring innovation. Rigorous racing conditions are tough on parts and unforgiving of imperfect designs. If your electric design can perform here, it might be capable of making its way into full production.

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