Organized for 8 years, the Riviera Electric Challenge has been transformed for a few years into a true regularity rally. A friendly event in which Automobile Propre was able to participate behind the wheel of the new electric Kia Niro.
I haven’t done a regular rally in a long time. My last participation dates back to 2015. At that time, I was hired as a co-driver behind the wheel of one of the first Renault ZOE ZE40 prototypes as part of the ZENN (Zero Emission No Noise) rally organized by Automobile Monaco. club. When Kia invites me to relive the adventure behind the wheel of the new Niro in the Riviera Electric Challenge.
From Cagnes-sur-Mer to Monaco via Turini
When it started in 2015, the Riviera Electric Challenge (REC) was just a simple gathering of electric vehicles. Regularity events only appeared two or three years ago to give the event a new dimension. Despite the introduction of this competitive component, the REC remains primarily a friendly event made up largely of neophytes. Open to professionals and individuals, it brings together a large part of the offer available on the market. The opportunity for the participants to exchange with other owners.
Organized within the framework of EVER Monaco, a reference exhibition for electric vehicles in the Principality, the REC associates the municipality of Cagnes-sur-Mer with the Italian authorities. Hence this rally that starts in Cagnes through the famous Col de Turini and the Italian Alps before heading to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the arrival place of this 2022 edition.
Regularity, what is it?
Not associated with speed, regularity is based, as its name suggests, on… regularity. The goal is to have as few points as possible while respecting the different time limits without going too fast or too slow.
For this, you must follow the route imposed by a road book but also “point” to the various CPs (control points) at well-defined times. Except at end-of-day CPs where “early check-in” is authorised, you must arrive within the minute indicated on the tracking sheet given to each crew. Arriving too early or too late is (stupidly) equivalent to receiving penalty points. As long as you follow the roadbook carefully, this part is not very complicated, being the times allotted between each CP long enough to get there without having to act crazy behind the wheel.
The famous Zones of Regularity, or ZR for friends, are already more complicated. Punctuating the race, these sections, which each take a lap of ten kilometers, must be carried out at the averages imposed by the organization. Each second of advance or delay is sanctioned with a penalty point.
The rally that takes place on open roads, the speeds required in the ZR cannot exceed the legislation, that is, 50 km/h on the mountain roads used. In total, the REC consisted of 8 ZRs with speeds ranging between 30 and 46 km/h. If on paper it seems simple, in reality it is a little more complicated… Because this stocking is also fundamental in curbs and sharp curves that you have to know how to anticipate. At this point, electric vehicles have a clear advantage over their thermal counterparts. Without gearboxes, they benefit from immediate torque that allows them to quickly recover speed in the event of a delay.
Each team must also accept the various facts of the race. As the road is open, it is possible to cross/overtake bicycles, cars, animals and sometimes even motorhomes that, in sometimes narrow sections, lose time (and gain points) quickly.
To help the mostly rookie crews, the organization has installed a device in each car to track their mileage. Supplied by Blunik, it also made it possible to assist the driver in the famed ZR through a three-LED system that helped keep him “on time” allotted. A system that I eventually affectionately renamed “Blushit” at the end of the competition (you’ll have to read on to find out why).
A new electric Kia Niro that sticks to the road
While consistency is nothing new to me, this is my first time behind the wheel. A member of the Kia France staff, Julien accompanies me throughout the race as co-driver.
Less comfortable in dynamic driving than other members of the editorial staff such as Max, Soufyane or Pierre, I approach this Riviera Electric Challenge with a bit of apprehension, especially since the rain has arrived on the first day of the rally. An electric Niro of more than 1,800 kilos on sodden mountain roads where you sometimes have to pump to pick up speed, it can hurt!
Despite some body roll that’s hard to erase given the size of the machine, the Niro was able to put me at ease quickly. Riveted to bitumen, it’s even quite fun to drive thanks to the nice boosts from its 204-horsepower engine. The effectiveness of ESP, which has reached us more than once, has something to do with it. Continental EcoContact tires too! I personally drive a Kona Electric every day. I would never have dared to subject Hyundai’s electric SUV to the same fate as its Nexen mount (a real crap on wet roads).
Our electric Niro even seemed more comfortable than the Kia EV6. Also dedicated to racing, the large Korean sedan had a harder time operating on small roads due to its size.
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The system of paddles on the steering wheel to adjust the intensity of the engine brake at various levels also helped me a lot to stop better at the imposed speed in the downhill phases where the brake pedal tended to be less precise. While I’m not a huge fan of the head-up display, we did miss its absence on the Niro, where it would have helped keep speed in view.
On the opposite side, I give you the figure for the form. When we arrived in Monaco, the on-board computer showed us an average of 17.4 kWh/100 km after 266 km covered in the entire event. This is correct knowing that there were obviously great disparities between the uphill phases, in which we could exceed 20 kWh/100 km, and the downhill phases, in which we consumed almost nothing.
The ranking: honor is safe!
Out of more than forty participants, we finished the race in eleventh position with a total of 248 points! If honor is spared, we clearly could have done better. Beyond the few crossing issues and a cow found in one of the ZRs, it was also and mostly the Blunik unit that got us into trouble by regularly losing GPS signal (hence the Blushit). Result: without knowing if we were ahead or behind the imposed average, we advanced blindly and received many penalty points. A frustrating fact of the race that ultimately penalized many crews.
In the end, some turned out better than others. First place went to the previous generation Niro, driven by two rally regulars. Then came a Mission Energy Transition-registered Peugeot e-208 and a new electric Niro in Kia France colours.
Access to the general classification
Riviera Electric Challenge 2022 – Photos
Photo credits: REC 2022
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