Motorsport: Racers switch to all-electric

By Eric Thompson

The 'future of motorsport' begins next year

Spark-Renault are hoping to build 42 of their electric race cars for next season's series.
Spark-Renault are hoping to build 42 of their electric race cars for next season's series.

Gentlemen, start your batteries ... the Formula E championship for electric-powered cars will be up and whirring next year.

Berlin has become the 10th city, and the third in Europe, to join what series ambassador and test driver Lucas di Grassi calls the "future of motorsport". Berlin's circuit will be built within the former Tempelhof Airport. The Formula E calendar includes London, Rome, Los Angeles, Miami, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Putrajaya, Bangkok, and Berlin.

The fully electric racing series will run from September 2014 to June 2015, with most races on inner-city streets. The visible driving force, de Grassi, has a fine pedigree in motorsport. He began racing karts at the age of 8 and drove in Formula Renault, four Formula 3 teams, three GP2 teams, nine Formula 1 cars, and two World Endurance Championship LMP1 cars.

He first drove the Formula E prototype near Paris in August last year and was taken by the "futuristic sound" generated by the tyres, aero package and wind blowing through the helmet.

The concept is simple, especially when the perception is that the future of transport is electric-powered, so it's logical to reckon that's where racing should be headed. There are sceptics who feel that taking away the sound and smell of a tortured internal combustion engine on the red-line limit of its existence will make for a lesser sport. Listening to the wind ruffling over front and rear spoilers, and a bit of tyre noise, won't cut it with those fans.

But companies are willing to pour money into new technologies so it should be on a sound financial footing. The series creators want to offer the motor racing public an alternative to the fossil fuel-burning racers fizzing around tracks all over the world. They want to create an avenue for exciting electric racing while promoting low-cost efficient technology and energy use.

There's also a hefty incentive for the 10 teams, each with a pair of drivers: a $650,000 prize for each race and a bonus of $3.5 million for the winning team.

The race format will be something not seen before. Each driver will have the use of two cars. Each race is about an hour long and while one car is being punted around the track, the other will be getting re-juiced. There will be two pit stops in each race.

The car is designed to get the best balance between efficiency and performance.

The car aims to have the lowest drag coefficient in open-wheel racing - and downforce will be minimum. The electric motor will produce about 200kW and have a heap of torque, taking the car to 100km/h in less than three seconds.

The biggest challenge will be to find the absolute limit of the car on a new circuit after little testing time.

On top of that, the heavier the foot on the go-fast pedal the more energy is burned. Ways to best manage battery consumption and pit stop time will influence results.

International investors, among them Addax team owner Alejandro Agag and Drayson Racing partner Lord Drayson, are in charge of the series' commercial rights under an agreement with the FIA.

Eric Barbaroux, chairman of Electric Formula, and investor Enrique Banuelos, are the other partners in Formula E Holdings.

Spark Racing Technology and Renault Technical Partnership are building the Spark-Renault SRT 01E car and it's hoped 42 vehicles should be ready for the first season. Dallara will supply the chassis and the tyres are from Michelin.

- NZ Herald

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