With a little help from Al Unser, Jr., electric car-maker Zap this week will move onto the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize finals. Unser will pilot Zap's spiffy three-wheeled sports car, Alias, thanks in part to the latest generation of Firestone Firehawk tires.
The X Prize is a global competition that started with 142 competitors. Zap was one of the first group of teams that entered, signing on back in June 2007.
A series of scored performance and evaluation events began on April 26, 2010. Currently, 13 teams with 15 clean, production-capable vehicles remain in the competition. The vehicles all exceed 100 MPG energy equivalent (MPGe). The teams are competing with vehicles that run on gas and hydrogen, gas and steam, biodiesel and electricity. The $10 million purse will be split between mainstream and alternative vehicle winners. The Zap Alias is an alternative side-by-side, and has two seats. The mainstream vehicles have four seats. The only team left with two vehicles, called Edison2, is in the mainstream category.
"As we made plans for the Automotive X Prize competition with Al Unser, Jr. behind the wheel, he insisted that he wanted Firestone brand tires on the car," said Gary Starr, founder and director of business development, Zap. "Al brings a lifetime of driving experience to the Zap team along with a wealth of auto industry contacts. He helped introduce Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations and its Firestone brand to the Zap Alias, and the tires have been working very well for us."
According to a statement from Zap, the company worked with Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations engineers to select the right tire for the competition--the Firestone Firehawk Wide Oval Indy 500 street tire. The tire was designed with a shallow tread depth ("skid"), while still maintaining desired tire performance. The company says, this reduced skid offers maximum traction capability; however it also lowers the tire's mass and helps to reduce rolling resistance. Low rolling resistance helps increase fuel mileage, which Zap hopes is key to winning the X Prize .
Zap says if the Northern California-based company is one of the fortunate winners, the prize money will be used to accelerate production of the Alias and bring it to market as "an affordable, exciting, fun, lean, mean, and green roadster."