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IIT Racing Team Hopes Electric Car Can Beat Gas-Powered Rivals

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A racing team from the Illinois Institute of Technology is trying to build something radical – a racing car that is powered by electricity, and can beat those using conventional fuels.

The auto designers of tomorrow are cutting their teeth today on the planning and construction of the vehicle, which races in two domestic events and could race overseas.

The IIT Motorsports team is showing off its work at the Chicago Auto Show.

IIT Racing Team Shows Off Electric Race Car At Auto Show

The car is fundamentally different. There is no roar of the engine, because there is no engine in the battleship-gray car. Instead, it is powered by electricity – a series of lithium polymer cells -- but it is capable of a top speed of 70 miles an hour for 20 miles.

Charles Currier is one of the four drivers on the team. He said it's a totally different animal that relies on math to be right far more than the testing done by Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR teams, each of which uses equipment similar to rival teams.

"They may have a year or two behind the scenes before they release a car," Currier said. "The one that we have here at the show, we finished 40 minutes before the race, so there was literally no test time at all."

A straight electric beat a fueled race car last year for the first time anywhere, in Germany, and the IIT team is seeking the funding to compete internationally, including the race in which the historic win occurred. Building and racing the car on display at the show cost $85,000. The IIT Motorsports Team's next car must be ready for testing in about a month, and Currier said it is expected to cost $150,000.

The team is drawing plenty of notice. Currier and IIT Motorsports chassis engineer Kaustav Neogi said alumni now work at all of the Big Three automakers.

"This is the future of engineers," Currier said. "You have the up-and coming experts who are going to feed into every industry you see at this trade show here right now, building these cars, and cutting their teeth on some pretty incredible vehicles."

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