The FIA's Outlined Its All-Electric Future For GT Racing And I Have Questions

Illustration for article titled The FIA's Outlined Its All-Electric Future For GT Racing And I Have Questions
Image: FIA

Electrification has impacted prototype and open-wheel racing across various categories, but it’s remained largely absent from GT. That will soon change, as the FIA released new details Wednesday on its upcoming Electric GT class.

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That’s the tentative name for the category, though it’s an appropriate one. The FIA says that Electric GT cars will “operate in a similar performance window to the current generation of GT3 cars but will exceed their combustion engine-powered counterparts in areas such as acceleration and qualifying pace,” setting general expectations for performance.

In fact, the FIA states that GT3 constructors “will be able to utilize the architecture and certain design elements of their existing cars and convert them to electric power” if they so choose. That indicates some degree of commonality between the two classes, and raises the possibility of GT3-to-Electric GT conversions.

However, the manufacturers that decide to go that route will have to make sweeping changes beyond the powertrain. Minimum weight for the Electric GT class will range from 3,284 to 3,373 pounds — considerably heavier than the 2,645 to 2,866 pounds of modern GT3 machinery. Maximum power will be limited to 576 horsepower, which is about at the top end of where GT3 and GTE cars land today.

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Image: FIA

According to the FIA, “setting the weight threshold higher than it is for the GT3 class will limit the use of expensive materials.” That’s an especially important consideration if the governing body hopes to garner interest from constructors, because making high-performance electric cars light is costlier and more difficult than making their internal combustion-powered counterparts light.

As for the battery tech, the FIA detailed that as well. Saft, a subsidiary of Total Lubricants that is responsible for the battery pack in Peugeot’s upcoming Le Mans Hypercar, will build lithium-ion pouch cells that manufacturers can then develop and integrate how they like. It’s a notable difference from, say, Formula E, where battery components are standardized throughout the grid.

The new class will be the first in electric-powered motorsport not to rely on standardized batteries. It will accommodate cars of vastly different architectures with different spaces available to install key components.

Through partnership with industry-leading firm Saft, a subsidiary of Total, the category will allow the manufacturers to build their own bespoke battery layouts based on Saft-supplied cells.

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The cells were designed to allow for 700 kW peak regen and 700 kW fast recharging that will enable them to replenish to 60% of their capacity within a few minutes during a mid-race pit stop. The charging network will be developed to meet the fast charging requirements and depending on the venue, will include elements of permanent and temporary infrastructure.

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The FIA will allow some leeway in how the next generation of GT cars send their power to the ground. Two- and four-motor systems are allowed, as are rear-wheel and all-wheel drive. That said, the rules allow for torque to be deployed on “each wheel independently based on speed, acceleration, traction and steering angle” — so it would seem constructors would be leaving some potential performance on the table by forgoing all-wheel drive.

It’s exciting to see a comprehensive plan for the GT class to advance, though it raises questions as to how the FIA will use Electric GT and how it’ll evolve. At the outset, there will be a dedicated series that we’ll supposedly learn more about in the coming weeks.

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What about beyond that, though? Could we see a day where the FIA attempts to balance Electric GT with GT3 or GTE? Could they ever share the track at, say, the 24 Hours of Le Mans? The vast differences between refueling and recharging would seem to eliminate that possibility, as would the logistical infrastructure hurdles. Ultimately though, there will probably come a time where conventional GT cars are progressively phased out at the top level to bridge the gap to all-electric alternatives, and I’m awfully curious as to how that transition will play out.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. 2017 Fiesta ST. Wishes NASCAR was more like Daytona USA.

DISCUSSION

Curious what kind of runtime these would be looking at. 87kWh gives you 12 minutes of running at 430kW. With regenerative braking maybe 20 minutes for the first stint where the battery is full?

Then there would be the interesting tactical game of how long you charge it for at each pit stop given it’ll charge slower the more full the battery is. Or at least I hope there would be, rather than it being strictly regulated how long you can charge for.