The Electric Racing Revolution

As we continue the march into the next decade, it looks like electric vehicles will be racing more.

EVs get a lot of flak, but the truth is that we’re going to see more and more of them as manufacturers are pushed into them one way or the other. With that, comes development and what better way to increase the performance of any vehicle than with auto racing and motorsports. Just this year Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and BMW have all committed to running a full Formula E schedule, with Mercedes completely dropping from the DTM in favor of it and Porsche dropping its prototype from WEC. Are we beginning to see the beginning of a revolution of EVs in racing?

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The most recent news, after Mercedes and Porsche’s Formula E announcement, was that the parent company of the World Rallycross series would be introducing an EV class as early as 2020. “We’re talking to a number of manufacturers and working with the FIA about what it might look like,” World Rallycross managing director Paul Bellamy told Autosport, “It will be 2020 at the earliest [before an EV introduction] but we’re in discussions about what format the concept might take, what the cars will be like and where it will sit in the World RX weekend.”

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However, Global Rallycross is already on the way with an EV class in 2018 called e-GRC. When announced in 2016 GRC CEO Colin Dyne stated, “The electric car is one of the hottest topics in the automotive industry, and manufacturers across the globe have recognized its immense potential. We want to embrace this technology by welcoming it into our series as we continue to grow and expand.” Additionally, Speedleague announced its own electric rallycross series called E/RACING that will debut in the fall of 2017 with cars based off current FIA World Rallycross regulations but with the addition of a 500kW (roughly 670hp) motor and FIA-certified batteries. STARD, the Stohl Advanced Research and Development arm of Manfred Stohl’s racing team, first developed a version called the HIPER in 2016 for just such a purpose and is based off a Peugeot 207 Super2000. STARD will also be the main source of vehicle development for the series.

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Again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that the OEMs are pushing or being pushed in to EV technology. The Volkswagen Group, in many ways, forced themselves into the idea after the disaster of Dieselgate. With their push of being greener but being caught cheating on emissions at the tailpipe of their diesel engines, they need a new ‘green’ look for the public to see. With that, they have fully committed to EVs. “We are betting the farm on electric,” Greg Lucia, Director of Experiential Marketing at VW America, told The Detroit News, “We are making things differently now. Electric suits our product.” That’s why they are making the push for e-GRC. Honda is also on the rumor mill for considering e-GRC, which makes sense considering they already compete in GRC with the Honda Civic Coupe.

However, why the push for rallycross? Distance seems to be the main reasoning, “There is quite a lot of potential that rallycross will be electrified in future with a very powerful car – around 800bhp. Rallycross has a race distance that can easily be covered on battery power,” Wolfgang Durheimer from Audi Motorsport told Autocar. Of course, there are other avenues of short distance racing that might make sense for EVs: drifting and time attack.

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So, are EVs coming to Formula Drift, Global Time Attack, or the World Time Attack Challenge and when? Jason Dienhart of GTA says it can happen very soon, “Sooner than you think,” he says. “I know a team that is seriously looking at doing one as a side project and they are smart enough to do something cool and fast. But at the same time, you never know with the time attackers, things can take a long time.  If I had to guess, I would say in the next 2 years.”

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Ian Baker, CEO of WTAC, isn’t as optimistic about EVs and racing, “My honest opinion? It will spell the end of motorsport as a spectator sport.” His reasoning is one many point out as a flaw in EV racing: the noise or lack of it. “Motorsports fans come to see, hear, and be a part of the spectacle. The reason WTAC works is that the cars are loud, crazy, and fast. Once one of those things is missing, it will be the end of it I imagine.”

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According to rumors in the Formula Drift paddock, though, there is an EV car on the way. When I asked Kevin Wells, technical director of FD, about his side of accepting EVs into drifting, he had this to say: “From a technical prospective, we welcome the new technology to the series.” With its shorter format, it presents a similar advantage as rallycross as far as vehicle development goes. “Formula Drift would be an excellent test bed for hybrid and electric vehicle technology development,” says Kevin. “It also presents a great opportunity to showcase the performance possible from those manufacturers willing to support such a program.”

So, do you agree with Ian Baker over at the WTAC and think motorsports will die if EVs are fully implemented? Or do you think that this is a fantastic opportunity for fans and manufacturers alike to embrace this rapidly developing technology?

Justin Banner
Instagram: jb27tt
Facebook: racerbanner
Twitter: RacerBanner

Formula E image by DPPI Media/Antonin Vincent

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30 comments

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1

I lost interest in F1 after the change to turbocharging, and I've tried to watch Formula E but could never get into it. Squealing tyres alone just don't do it for me. The majority of the motorsport that I watch is on TV rather than in person however, and the way I experience it is limited to just sight and sound. If you kill the sound, there isn't much drama left to entertain.

However, I will wait to reserve judgement on Electric WRC, Time attack and Drifting etc, I think they are far more entertaining to begin with and have less to lose from the switch IMO.

I think it will be all the more important to experience motorsport with all 5 senses IRL.

2

On one hand, I'm not excited for EVs. I love the sound and smell of petrol engines. I was in the shop sniffing 2-stroke exhaust the other day, nothing is better lol :).

I also think EVs mean the end of things like F1 as we know it. Top tier motorsports will need to reinvent themselves, redefine why they exist, and I don't think many of the current series will survive.

That said, I always try to see both sides, and some of the positives of EVs dawned on me while sniffing that 2-stroke exhaust. We started talking about electric motorbikes, specifically the new electric dirt bikes coming out, and thought it would be cool to build a track in the yard for them. Would never even consider that for a petrol bike, as the neighbors would freak...but EBs, not much louder than a bicycle, or a skate park in the back yard.

So would more EV racing see more accessibility to places like Leguna Seca, or the Brands Hatch GP circuit? Both of these tracks have pretty strict noise restrictions in place because neighbouring communities are so close

3
Matthew Dockery

I've always felt that the noise restrictions at Laguna Seca were a load of bullsh*t. How can you buy a property that close to a race track and not assume the noise will be audible? And track events don't run long into the evenings and typically won't start until about nine in the morning, so you're not disturbing the waking or waning hours of someone's home life.

4

I live in the UK and this is the case at basically every circuit. I totally agree that it's ridiculous that the people that have moved near a circuit can dictate this. A circuit that was already there. A circuit that was there before a lot of people were born.

5

Dark days.

6

Great read! Like you mentioned, electric cars are coming one way or another so it makes sense for racing organizations to be thinking about that. It's happening whether we like it or not, so we might as well embrace it; I'm pretty interested to see what comes of it if I'm honest.

7

Watched formula e racing on TV when they were in Brooklyn NY. Was intresting but dull at the same time. Squeeling tires and transmission werring noises were a bit boring. The changing of cars was silly too. Some teams using 3-4 diffrent cars during a race to keep going.... Tires lasting longer the charge on the vehical was silly. And how do they check up on cheating.... having to inspect 4 cars for each team before and after the races has to give stwards nightmares.

8

No one used 4 cars. Max allowed is 2. Clearly you did t watch very closely.

9

the day I don't know what car is coming just by the engine noise I can hear is the day I stop going to watch racing, there is just something about arriving at a circuit to have your ears punched inside your head by a screaming flat 6 or 1000cc bike or thumping v8 that is just so appealing. Without that.... I wouldn't go to watch racing, it's part of the spectacle. Being able to tell the car is being pushed to its limits, knowing which driver is coming around a blind corner by the sound of the engine, listening for your favourite in a hope he hasn't been passed or has made the pass, the anticipation won't be the same. The people who complain about living near race circuits will be happy at least. Then there's the reliability factor that make the cars themselves more...alive, if they become too reliable races will have lost another feature that makes them great... does anyone here think electric cars have personality like fossil fuel cars do?

10

There is one way to test my theory, watch some racing on YouTube... turn the sound off for the entirety of the race.

11

EV RallyX would be pretty awesome I think. Combine AWD with lots of grip with masses of instant torque and you've got some pretty exciting racing.

If the strongest argument against EVs is the lack of sound then I'm sure it's a hurdle we'll get over before long.

12
Matthew Dockery

There's also the length of race event. Formula E is at the top end of electric technology, and they have to stop halfway through the race and pull out a new car for the driver. The batteries can't even last a full hour of racing.

From a less professional standpoint it's even worse. A Tesla Model S will literally shut itself off after a lap around Laguna Seca because the batteries and motor are overheating, and if you manage to baby the car for multiple laps, you'll only manage so many on a single charge.

You'd be kissing the entirety of endurance racing goodbye. I'm not saying electric might not work for heat style racing like rallycross and drifting (technically not racing, but that's another argument to be had), but electric just can't handle most road racing at the moment -- and any cars that can are completely inaccessible to a common enthusiast.

13

Originally Racing was used to demonstrate the reliability and performance of vehicles. I suspect the same thing will happen with EV's. That in of itself could be very interesting.

Technology could also make the viewing of racing much more palatable for a wider audience. The biggest draw back of viewing racing has always been that it failed to communicate the adrenaline rush that one got in a car close to out of control. I suspect VR will go a long way to closing that gap. The Isle of Man TT is not spectacular because of the sound of the bikes but rather because the danger is apparent and the speed is much more relatable because the bikes are driven on actual streets.

How we view racing now is most certainly not how we will view it in the future. EV is coming anyway so we might as well start thinking of ways it could make things better rather than worse.

P.S. If you are after noise, you can pipe whatever sound you want out of the car. You don't need a traditional engine to generate noise.

14

I find electric cars are only exciting when you're behind the wheel. Though silent burnouts are amazing.
I can't see it working for time attack, would they take a few hours to charge between groups? Would they swap out the batteries like they swap tyres?

Author15

If need be, but most Model S' that run track days don't run out of battery between runs. The motor's rotor overheats, according to the Tesla guys I've seen run.

16

Have them run brushed motors, that would be more loud and exciting.. wouldn't do a thing for battery life though.

Author17

That would be very interesting, along with the sparks that fly, hahah.

18

Jalopnik had a article on the ev west's Electric GT Ferrari 308 that's ev swapped and manual. It actually got me a little more excited about electric vehicles that are performance/driver focused. Grassroots ev racing sounds pretty fun even with the lack of noise.

As a quick aside I know a large number of enthusiasts I see talk about ev racing cars is the sound. I don't get it though when spirted driving ensures I'm enjoying the drive the sound missing isn't that big a deal (normally dealing with quieter or raspy cars). I love a jag v12 xjs through the hills as much as any one else, but the mind blowing speed or physics straining turns and over takes are what make a drive or a race fun (participating or watching). I guess I'm asking why is sound so important to the race? Which would you rather; spaceship whirving, moany v6s, or just have the noise regs make the cars near silent anyway?

19
Matthew Dockery

When was the last time you watched a movie with no soundtrack? The sound from a racecar is an additional engaging element for the spectator (and driver). If you take it away, you'll be inherently reducing the amount of immersion in what's happening. May as well plug in your headphones and listen to a podcast while you watch Formula E...

20
Matthew Dockery

When was the last time you watched a bunch of kids at the electric go kart track and felt like you'd fulfilled your quota of motorsport spectating? That's about how I feel watching Formula E, and I can't imagine what watching rally anything would be like without screaming four cylinder motors and blow off valves. Anticipating the approaching car around a corner or grandstand is half the enjoyment of watching racing....

21

the commentators are going to have their work cut out for them, trying to keep us entertained. hope they make good car noises...
on another note, it will probably be very tricky for drivers of EV's to get the braking points right. after all how many rely on sound to know more or less what speed they are going when entering a corner. i'm sure most don't look at the speedo. some race cars don't even have them. yes, i can imagine some must go on feel, but without the sound i'm sure it'll feel strange at the very least

22

No driver in the history of ever uses sound for the braking point, you have clearly never raced anything lol WTF!

23

A lot of the circuits will have to sort PA's systems to cover all viewing points, a lot of the ones close to me only have PA's in or close to the pits only making commentating whilst at the circuits further away parts non existent, this is the same with the larger groups of motorsport on our tracks (BSB and BTCC) The other thing is being at airfield circuits, phone signal is also close to non existent at the moment so getting commentary online can also be a pain.

24

I'll be very interested in electric vehicle racing when the governing bodies pull the restrictions off of "refueling." Switching cars in the middle of what should be a sprint race, and then having a minimum time for the stop is BS.

I want to see teams hot-swapping batteries, or using an enormous cable to put a ton of electricity into batteries or capacitors quickly. I think that the weekly innovation that would follow would make following a series worth it.

25

To me it's all about accessibility and relate-ability. I don't WANT to own an EV, and even if I did, a sporty version of one that might allow you a little fun is way beyond the reaches of the 9-5 average Joe, thus taking away any kind of relate-ability like we get with drifting, BTCC and Rally-X. You can't see a pumped up version of your own car getting a load of stick around a track.

These EV's provoke nothing for me, no excitement, no enthusiasm. It's been said over and over but the lack of engine noise is a killer. Tyre squeals and road noise mean nothing if not mated with a throaty engine note.

It's almost like the fire triangle of motorsport. Take away one of the main fuels that make what we love exciting and the whole thing fails to even smolder, let alone blaze.

I'm hoping that EV motorsport will be like the 3D TV and be around for maybe a couple of years but then just fizzle out and we can get back to what we know. I'm all for evolution, but not this. Never EVs in motorsport.

26
Chris Colouryum

I think from the spectator side they need to be more immersive as without the noise it loses a huge element, I'm sure we've all had those goosebump moments from a car tearing past going full beans. Live VR experience of a race would be dope and to be able to pick and choose who you are watching. Yes it's not the same so don't try and cling on to it being the same. Celebrate a new way of looking at it all.

27

First of all, anybody making the argument against sound saying you don't need it or that you can just generate sound through speakers on the EV's is not somebody I would call a petrol-head nor an avid spectator of motorsport. Thus, they wouldn't know the importance and presence sound has from different engines. The drama you can hear before you see. Either that or they don't like sound in the first place. So people, take their comments with a grain of salt. They aren't at the racetrack all the time reeling in the pleasures of motorsport.

That being said, while I am not a fan of electric cars(for reasons other than no ICE) I do agree that manufactures will use racing to make them better. But like many I fear that racing will be lost if only EV's are running. Not lost for the drivers. It is the spectators that will feel the loss.

As drivers, we can and will drive anything. It is fun for us because we can make it fun. People watching will not be as in on that fun as they are with the sights and sounds of motorsports. There are a lot of variables that will make racing start going away, not just EV's. But EV's are in there. Boring to watch. Fun to drive.

The main reason I am against EV's right now is because none of them feel like drivers cars when I have driven them. Power is there, sure. But all the driver aids are there too, and a lot of them you can not turn off. The "torque vectoring" is one of the things I hate the most. It doesn't make you a better driver. It makes the car a better driver. And All EV's will come with this tech which means actual drivers cars will disappear all together. Even non-EV's have some of this tech already. THe WRX has it and I am not sure if you can turn it off or not. It's a sad day when you can no longer be in complete control when you are driving your car.

28

On the high end of motorsports, I think TT will be interesting for this and shows potential. The TT Zero bikes are running within 2 minutes of the overall lap record at IoM and have been dropping significantly every year. I think with a lot of the push on crazy aero and balanced setups over outright power method of yore, EV offers and interesting solution since you can balance your chassis with battery placement. You're doing single laps so so run time isn't limiting. MotoCysz had quick change batteries in their bike so they could do a lap, swap batteries and go right back out.
Has some promise on the grassroot said to. I'm personally interested in EV autocross car. Short runs would allow for a small battery for light weight. The low overall speed lends itself to a single great with an instant flat torque curve. I think it's be fun.
Don't get me wrong, I love the emotional connection I get from a screaming motor, but it isn't the sole factor in what entertains me about driving.

29

Single *gear*

30
Miles Hayler-MacMillan

I'm all for more torque! So long as the racing remains, I'll cope without the noise,

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