Anybody who’s heard a Nissan Leaf whizzing by knows the excitement that would be created in a dedicated electric car racing series — the smell of the electric charges; the whirr of the motors; the crowds golf-clapping …
So, when the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) announced in 2012 that it intended to develop a racing series for single-seat, electrically-powered cars, it was met with emotions ranging from loathing from environmentalists to mild enthusiasm from racing aficionados.
Environmentalists weren’t particularly happy to see one of the gains they had made with the automotive industry exploited for fun and profit. Racing enthusiasts were skeptical about a motorsport series without the sounds associated with motorsports.
Even Alejandro Agag, the CEO of Formula E Holdings — the company entrusted with setting up the series around the world — termed it “the silent revolution in motor racing,” at the car’s introduction during the 2014 Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas.
However, at a recent shake down of the Spark-Renault SRT_01E racing car, it proved to be anything but silent. Although not on a par with the turbo V6s used in Formula 1, it was reportedly louder than the average passenger car but quieter than the average transit bus.
Former Formula 1 racer Jarno Trulli was entrusted with the test of the racing trim car (whose race weight cannot exceed 200 kg or 441 lbs.), and was impressed with the sound of the motor behind the cockpit.
“From inside the cockpit, the sound is different but you still hear the sound of the (motor) and gearbox, so in terms of feeling it’s perfect for a racing driver,” Trulli said after his session. “Maybe from the outside it seems different but inside you don’t notice it.”
“Everybody has been talking so much about the sound and I didn’t know how this sound was going to be,” added Agag. “But we heard the sound today and we love it.”
As with Formula 1, FIA hopes the Formula E Championship will become the pinnacle of electric-car development and competition, with 10 two-driver teams competing in 10 races over the fall and winter seasons.
Races are currently planned for Beijing, Putrajaya (Malaysia), Rio de Janeiro, Punta del Este (Uruguay), Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Miami, Monte Carlo, Berlin and London
The races will be capped at 60 minutes in duration on city circuits ranging in length from 2.5 to 3.5 km in length. Unlike typical racing series’ race weekends, Formula E races will be staged in one day (preferably Saturdays) to lessen the disruption on the host city, with morning practice and qualifying, the afternoon race and an evening concert/festival.
In order to keep development costs down, car builders are required to make the cars available to at least two other teams at a cost capped at about $480,000 U.S. (350,000 Euros). The motors will be supplied by McLaren (of Formula 1 fame) and the batteries by Williams (also known from Formula 1). Sequential gearboxes supplied by Hewland have fixed ratios and the cars also have an energy recovery system to extend the driving range.
Maximum power is 200 kW (about 270 hp) for practice and qualifying, but is restricted to 133 kW (about 180 hp) during races. A 67 kW “push to pass” boost will be available during the race. Zero to 100 km/h acceleration is estimated in the three-second range, with top speed capped at 225 km/h.
Each team in the series must enter four cars, with pit stops requiring each of the team’s two drivers to switch from a car with depleted energy into a fully charged one.
“We think teams, drivers and fans will love the looks and sounds,” concluded Agag. “It’s a very exciting development and we can’t wait for that first race in Beijing in September 2014 to see all 20 cars lined up on the grid.”