If the emergence of Formula E heralded the arrival of motorsport’s electric future in 2014, then 2021 will be the year in which EV-based racing undergoes its next revolution. This is thanks to an all-new touring car category: the all-electric PURE ETCR series, which begins at Italy’s Vallelunga Circuit on June 18th.
Before I get into PURE ETCR, don’t get me wrong. I love Formula E. The tech is awesome, and the on-track action is above and beyond most Formula 1 races. It’s just that FE is not necessarily accessible. After all, not everyone can afford a Porsche Taycan, an Audi e-Tron, or a Jaguar I-PACE; just three of the cars represented by three of the manufacturers competing in the world’s first all-electric racing series.
What’s more, there’s no denying that the 2020s are the age of the electric car. Electric vehicles are poised to make record sales among buyers in the United States in 2021. Meanwhile in 2020, sales of EVs grew by 43 percent in 2020 in the United Kingdom. Such is the UK’s dedication to EVs, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that there will be a countrywide ban on the sale of all brand new ICE cars by 2030.
But back to the fun stuff. PURE ETCR is a series dedicated to showcasing how awesome and accessible EV racing can be. Based on what we know and you’re about to find out, I’d go as far to say that it’s one of the most exciting championships in years.
Over the course of a PURE ETCR weekend, some of the world’s best touring car drivers will compete in a series of approximately 10 kilometer sprint races or ‘Battles’ to be crowned the overall event winner. The drivers will start each Battle behind a Motocross style gate, and will line-up side-by-side as they would do in a Rallycross event to ensure the traditional “rubbing is racing” nature of touring car racing.
What’s more, the championship aims to showcase the latest in accessible EV tech through some of the world’s leading electric car makers.
The manufacturer-backed cars competing are the CUPRA e-Racer (an electrified version of the much-loved CUPRA Leon), and the Hyundai Veloster N ETCR. Meanwhile, Italian privateers Romeo Ferraris have entered an in-house developed version of the Alfa Romeo Giulia without any manufacturer backing.
All of these cars look absolutely rad, and the production versions won’t make you look like someone who has taken out a PCP agreement to worship at the altar of mUh ElON oF mUSk.
Oh, and did I mention that the cars competing in PURE ETCR are the most powerful touring cars ever built? Yup, you read that right. These all-electric race cars with their single gear can produce up-to 500 kilowatts of power from their powertrains; a figure which translates as 670bhp and a 0-62mph time of 2.7 seconds.
To contextualize this figure, let’s look at some numbers of other popular touring car championships around the world: a V8 Supercar will produce between 620bhp and 650bhp, and the turbocharged V6 Class 1 cars used in the ‘old’ DTM between 2019 - 2020 made 580bhp with an additional 60 horses available when push-to-pass was activated.
With this in mind, I set out to discover how PURE ETCR’s technical brains have extracted these extraordinary numbers from the cars’ electric motors and batteries, and how the drivers will deploy almost 700bhp on track.
To discover the answer, Jalopnik was joined by former Formula e and TCR driver, Michela Cerruti, who is now the Operations Manager of the Romeo Ferraris outfit.
“To begin with, the batteries are made by Williams Advanced Engineering, and there are four electric motors - one on each axle - made by Magelec,” she explained. “By working together on the calibration of their two systems, they struck the right balance between peak power and efficiency, which is around the 98% mark now - there’s a little more we could extract, but it’s absolutely a good start for an all-new championship.
“As for how the drivers will deploy the power, it’s a little different to an ICE-powered race car because we do not have a differential,” Cerruti continued. “In its place, we have an Electronic Control Unit, which simulates the behaviour of a diff and is known as ‘torque vectoring’.
“The ECU is controlled by the driver via the steering wheel. The unit controls the inverters which take a driver-determined amount of power from the battery, and send to each of the electric motors. This is what makes the car go forward. What’s more, like the majority of road-going EVs, each of the motors are connected by a single gear and the power is sent through the rear wheels.”
According to Cerruti, the torque vectoring system and how the driver uses the steering wheel to determine how much power they want is what from the power unit is what makes PURE ETCR the world’s most powerful and fastest-accelerating touring cars category.
“Basically, the amount of power taken from the battery is determined by the driver when they choose the mapping of their power unit, depending on the rules applied to every session” she said. “What’s more, the cars in their standard form have 300kW of power, which is around 402bhp. The maximum peak power of 500kW is only available for around 40 seconds in each race and can only be activated when the car is moving, so it’s completely down to the driver about how and when they want to use it.”
Xavier Gavory, the PURE ETCR Series Director, believes that the power of the cars and the traditional close nature of touring car racing is what will win over EV-skeptics and also create a new generation of electrified motorsport fans. Furthermore, he feels that the use of the off the shelf charging tech and the fan-friendly PURE ETCR Energy Station will help democratise electrification.
After all, it’s fan friendliness that led to Formula E’s recent 24% growth in recent years and an all-important record breaking revenue of over EUR 200,000,000 in 2020.
“It’s perfectly normal to be resistant to change, but I promise that PURE ETCR will be totally worth watching!” Gavory said. “We have to remember that the automotive industry is changing, going electric, and so touring cars - which has always been the platform for manufacturers to showcase the cars they sell - must follow too.
“I think once they watch PURE ETCR, fans will just have to see it to realise how cool it is. It’s still going to have all the hallmarks of touring car racing; door-to-door action, wheel-banging, fantastic drivers, but because we will have short Battles, the next passing move or the start takes on extra importance because you only have a few laps to get back ahead, not 45 minutes.
“What’s more, we will use CCS2 chargers that can take the energy level in the ETCR battery from 10 percent to 90 percent in an hour.
“The cars all charge together in the PURE ETCR Energy Station, which is a giant structure that will be the heart of the paddock. They’ll be on full display and fans will be able to safely watch the process, see the energy increasing and understand how easy and clean it is to recharge an electric vehicle.”
Yet whilst the PURE organisers are making all of the right noises about the racing and the cars, some question marks on behalf of the fans still surround the new championship with just over a month to go before the season opener.
Unsurprisingly, the fans’ main concerns are about the sound emitted by the cars. Running this concern a close second, is whether the PURE ETCR machines will be as challenging to drive as similarly-powered touring cars such as the DTM Class 1 machines and V8 Supercars I mentioned earlier.
To get driver’s take on these matters, I spoke to Mattias Ekström who is competing in PURE ETCR as a factory driver for the CUPRA team. As a reminder, the Swede is a two-time DTM champion with Audi, and in 2016, he took the FIA World Rallycross title winner with his very own EKS team.
“To be honest, I don’t think you can compare PURE ETCR with DTM because they’re totally different concepts” Ekström explained. “The biggest difference is the electric power which gives instant torque, as well as having to manage the torque vectoring which is totally dependent on the driver.
“In PURE ETCR, the traction control is quite active too. This allows you to go faster through corners than in a DTM car which has no driver aids, and you also don’t have to worry about suffering from any scary snap oversteer mid-corner.
“That said, one of the biggest challenges is the tyres we use in PURE ETCR. They’re all-weather, so they’re basically an intermediate. If it’s too warm or you generate too much heat through them, the grip will drop off super quickly. Similarly, if it’s cold or really wet, then you might struggle to get enough heat into them, so that’ll be pretty difficult.”
And Ekström’s take on PURE ETCR’s lack of an ICE note?
“I understand that the sound is a thing for the fans, and when the series begins, even I as a driver think it will be a little strange to not hear the ‘traditional’ sound of a race car,” he said. “At the start I think it will be a case of getting used to it, but the power these cars have, the race format we have which is something like a hybrid between Rallycross and Motocross, then I think they won’t have much to worry about.”
And when the opening round at Vallelunga comes around on June 18, neither do I.