Formula E – Leading The Way For Electric Racing

2016 FIA Formula E HKT Hong Kong ePrix. [photo courtesy FIA Formula E Championship]

2016 FIA Formula E HKT Hong Kong ePrix. [photo courtesy FIA Formula E Championship]

Turk’s Tracks
A Few Loose Lug Nuts from Pit Row

by Gene Turk

I was paging through my latest copy of Car and Driver when I happened to come upon a short report on some of the latest advances in electronics. That got me to thinking about what is happening in the Formula E type racing.

Formula E racing is sanctioned by the FIA and was conceived in 2012. Its first race was held in Beijing, China in 2014. The cars are open wheel and all of the cars use a spec Dallara chassis and a common 28 KWH battery. The motor components were based on the units from a McLaren P1 car. However, in 2015, the rules were opened up to allow teams to develop their own power trains. From a performance standpoint, the cars accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in a neck snapping three seconds and have a top speed of 140 mph.

Now for the rules. Here is where things get interesting. To start, 42 cars are ordered. The ten teams each get four cars with two cars kept for testing. The cars qualify on a 200 KW, but race on 170 KW. There are ten races on nine tracks located around the world. Two of the tracks are Miami and Long Beach here in the USA. The race course is one to two miles long and usually takes place on a temporary city center street circuit. The race is not determined by laps or miles, but rather by time. Each race is 50 minutes long with one required pit stop. But here is where things are different. No tires are allowed to be changed unless the tire has a puncture. Only 10 rows for a total of 20 cars start the race. At the pit stop, the driver changes cars with a fresh charged battery and then re-enters the track and continues racing.

But there is even more to the rather unique rules. For each race, the fans vote for their favorite driver via a special media channel up to two weeks before the race. The three winning fan boost drivers get an extra 100 KJ of power. It’s almost like every driver would start a NASCAR race with a 3/4 inch diameter restrictor plate, but Dale Jr. would get a 7/8 inch diameter restrictor plate. Points are awarded to the top ten drivers using the standard FIA system.

So what would you expect as a fan in the stand at a Formula E race. To start off, you won’t leave the race with any hearing loss. If you stood next to the car as it left the grid, you would most likely only hear a whine from the five speed gearbox. Standing 15 feet away, you’ll probably not hear anything. This makes it nice to talk to the person next to you. As a side note, the sound level at a NASCAR race can exceed 100 decibels. Continued exposure to this noise level can lead to hearing loss. NASCAR is presently looking into this issue and is trying to find ways to reduce the noise level of a NASCAR stock car. Continuing, there are usually very few caution flags and thus few accidents that could cause an injury to a driver. Finally, there isn’t a lot of passing, but much nose to tail racing in close quarters. Finally, the air quality will be the same at the end of the race as it was at the start. The teams even use a Biofuel to run the generators used to charge the batteries.

So, is there a future in electric racing? I think that we’ll see more race cars going electric in the very near future. Here is what Car and Driver reported. In 2016, Audi cancelled their Lemans program. They have announced a move to Formula E. Not to be left behind, BMW is also jumping into Formula E and Jaguar announces an I-Type Formula E racer. Here we have three manufactures with a proven record of fielding successful race winning teams. I’m guessing that these folks have at least one or two really, really smart engineers that can bring their expertise to Formula E and make it even better. It is truly interesting times that we live in.

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