I know that for some who pray to the Gods of Octane it is heresy to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: I like electric vehicles. I spent much of my misguided youth terrorizing the East Coast in electric golf carts and as I grew older that attraction never faded. So when I got the chance to be among the first to drive a Tesla around the Nurburgring Nordschleife in anger, I jumped at the chance. And even its tepid, limp mode lap didn’t dull my enthusiasm. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: lots of other race car drivers feel the same way.
See, us racing drivers are all about finding the limits of performance. And a growing number of us see EVs as the next frontier of performance. Sure, I’ll miss the roar of a big block V8 and the smell of race fuel probably more than most, as the noise of a V8 has pretty much been the soundtrack of my life to date. That being said, the performance potential of EV’s just cannot be denied.
Nonetheless, up until recently most electric race cars have been either homebuilt specials or full on works prototype Pikes Peak monsters. Neither has been especially relevant to production cars. Enter Jaguar’s new I-Pace eTROPHY race car.
Forgive the creative spelling, but the eTROPHY race car is based on Jaguar’s new electric I-Pace crossover that just hit the market. The car is being built by JLR to support select Formula E events around the globe. There will be 20 competing in 10 races in nine cities around the world. This will make it the first global, one make electric championship in history.
Jaguar initially gave the green light for this project in July 2017 and by February of this year it had three development cars up and ready for testing. The automaker then spent the next two months working on reliability development and setup of the car.
More importantly, as there are no FIA regulations for production electric race cars, Jaguar had to work closely with the FIA to develop a set of regs that will be put in place globally for the start of the 2019 season.
Since the mules have started their testing, they have each had up to three seasons worth of race miles put on them in testing. Additionally, Jaguar has estimated its drivers have had up to 13,000 curb strikes simulating the abuse of the cars will have to face at the hands of its pro drivers.
The I-Pace eTROPHY race car is very close in design to its road going sibling as it uses the production car as a basis for race conversion. This is a good thing as the I-Pace is as striking up close in person as it is in pictures.
There are only a few places where the eTROPHY car visibly diverges from its road-going stablemate in styling. The most visible change is the new front bumper with enlarged air ducts, needed to feed the two cooling systems used to keep the batteries at their peak operating temps (the road car’s stock HVAC system has been repurposed here for additional cooling support.)
Additionally the race version comes equipped with a fully ducted bonnet (we call it a hood on this side of the pond), wider wheel arches (+20mm) and vented front fenders. Finally, a small splitter and rear wing are tacked on. You know, because race car.
When its all put together the final version makes quite a good looking machine, especially in the Phosphor Blue paint the car I tested was adorned in.
The eTROPHY uses the same electric drive unit and 90 kW battery as the street car. Each motor can put out 145 kW for a combined total of 400 horsepower and propel the eTROPHY car to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The specs on the battery also mirror the streetcar with 389 Volts and 550 Amp. Now as I’m new to the whole electric thing, those specs don’t mean too much to me. but the engineers at Jaguar assure me they are impressive.
Additionally, after getting the results of their durability testing, in the racing Jaguar is expecting the battery to last a full season and the EDUs to last three. That’s a huge time and cost savings as I’m use to having to rebuild my fossil fuel race engines every four to six races.
As much as Jaguar is trying to keep the cars as close to stock as possible, there are a few places where they had to make changes in order to make the cars work out on the racetrack. One of the main things that has been modified is the suspension which has been modified for coil over shocks. The shocks are motorsport specific units provided by Ohlins that lower the car 30 mm. Additionally, cross access joints have replaced all of the bushings throughout the suspension, which will give the cars a much more stable, predicable feel when the drivers are at maximum attack.
One of the interesting things to me was the limited amount of suspension setup adjustments Jaguar will be allow for the car. The cars are designed with a fixed camber setting of 3.0 degrees front and 2.7 degrees rear and and an adjustable control arm to give a small range of adjustability in the front, but that’s it. Jaguar wants these cars to be as equal as possible for all drivers so the focus can be on driver ability and not car setup—at least in theory.
And speaking of equality, Michelin has been contracted to be the spec rubber supplier for the series. However, as opposed to a full racing slick, Michelin is bringing modified version of their Pilot Sport street tire, mirroring what sister series Formula E does.
One of the other philosophies of Formula E has been sustainability, and in continuing that theme Jaguar I-Pace eTROPHY teams will only be allowed one set of tires for an entire race weekend. Considering the weight of the car, if one set of tires can survive for practice, qualifying and a 25 minute race, color me impressed.
With the limited adjustments and spec tire the series feels more like a showroom stock series than an international racing series. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. To the contrary: evenly matched cars on lower grip tires, with some of the best drivers in the world, going head-to-head on street circuits in major cities around the globe could be epic. It’s just like Spec Miata if Spec Miata was raced with $350,000 electric crossovers.
With that in mind, and after a fairly in-depth lecture on electric racing vehicle safety—which is completely foreign to me so I actually paid attention to the briefing this time—the techs at Jaguar bravely sent me out on to the Silverstone circuit have a go.
Noise, or the lack thereof, is the first thing you notice leaving the pits. With no engine noise you are now able to hear everything else in the car. Suspension creaking, brakes squealing, tires screaming. It’s all sounds that are present in every race car I’ve ever driven, it’s just that they’ve always been masked by a howling internal combustion engine.
The other thing that I found surprising is that ever since I was a wee lad I have always associated engine noise with speed, as I assume everyone else on the planet does as well. But in a vehicle with no engine noise you lose some of that sense of speed.
However, just because you may not think you are moving at a high rate of speed that you aren’t, as I found out heading into turn one carrying substantially more velocity than I originally thought. Fortunately for me, the other nice thing about driving an electric vehicle is that there’s less for a driver to do.
In this specific situation the lack of gearbox meant that I didn’t have to worry about downshifting and making sure I was in the right gear coming off the corner. Just put on the binders, get the car slowed and pointed in the right direction, then back to throttle. Easy peasy.
Now just because there’s less for a driver to do, don’t take that to mean that the I-Pace race car is a pussy cat. With the instant torque of the electric motors going to all four wheels, the car launches from the slow speed Silverstone corners like the proverbial scalded cat—albeit it one with an electric cattle prod shoved up its bum.
With no engine noise to interfere, I can hear the precise change of pitch as the tires go from singing to screaming as I push them beyond the limits of available grip. But with the most linear, immediate throttle response that I have ever felt in a race car, my ability to keep the tires dancing on the edge of adhesion was bordering on telepathic.
With the cars weighing in around 1,965kg (4,333 pounds) the eTROPHY cars are not what you would call lightweight. In fact of all of the things you could call them the word light would not feature prominently in any of them (unless directly proceeded by the word “not”). With all of that weight (AWD race cars typically weigh in around 3,200 to 3,300 pounds at most) and street tires you would think that the eTROPHY would be a bit of a British pig.
Fortunately a good chunk of that extra weight resides in the battery (660 lbs), which is located low in the chassis, so the car’s center of gravity is actually correspondingly low, giving the car a far more nimble feel than its ample tonnage would otherwise indicate.
Back on track, my ability to get up to speed and comfortable in the car quickly—more due to Jaguar’s design than my driving ability—allowed me time to play around with a few of the settings that the series drivers will have access to on race day. The first button on the wheel that caught my attention was for the adjustable torque map. This gives the driver a choice between two maps with varying splits. The first one is a 50/50 split and the second is a 48/52.
You wouldn’t think that a 2 percent difference would change a whole lot, but the 50/50 split induced a fair amount of understeer through the twisty bits. The 48/52 map was much better balanced but I would have liked them to go even further, say a 47/53 or even a 46/54 option which would possibly give the driver the ability to rotate the rear of the car with the throttle. You know me, I love some oversteer.
The next thing on my list of random buttons to push and knobs to twist was the ABS system. Now I have a lot of experience with Bosch’s awesome 12-step adjustable motorsport ABS system which Jag uses on the eTROPHY (assisting AP Racing four-piston calipers and 395mm front and 355 rear rotors) but I had never used it in conjunction with an EV regenerative braking system.
The main difference with the regen system on the race car is that it is not linked to the throttle, like on most EV street cars, but only activates when you apply the brakes. The regen system can add as much as .4g of deceleration assistance to the driver. Which in practice is quite a lot.
The system is non-adjustable, however the amount of assist does vary based on how much charge is left in the battery. If the battery is full (like at the start of a race) then there’s no regen assistance given to the driver. Wwith the battery full there is no place to store any extra energy. Expect to see British Touring Car levels of first-lap carnage if drivers forget that little factoid.
Speaking of the battery, one very nice characteristic of the eTROPHY battery is that the battery discharge will remain linear for the entire 25 minute-plus one lap race distance, so there will be no variation in power output. Even better, the stock battery will last the full race distance without the driver having to manage how aggressively they drive the car.
In fact, drivers should actually finish the race with about 20 percent of charge left leaving a good margin for error. There’s no jumping out and doing a car swap mid-race a la Formula E over the past couple seasons.
To date Jaguar has sold a dozen of the £200,000 ($265,000 USD) eTROPHY racecars to a handful of teams around the globe. One of the first teams to sign up was Rahal Lanagan Racing and they’ve committed their pro drivers Bryan Sellars and Katharine Legge to a full season.
Additionally, several other top international drivers have been linked to the series and with a full season’s operating costs fixed at a very reasonable—at least in motorsport terms— $600,000 USD, there has been a tremendous interest in the series.
While I will eventually miss the sounds and the smells of petrol powered race cars, electric racing is here to stay and after sampling the Jaguar I-Pace eTROPHY I’m totally fine with a little quiet in my racing from now. This will be a series you should keep your eye on.