Why electric racing is the way forward
The 2017 racing season is now over and it has been a blast of fun in the Mini JCW Challenge, the feeder series to British Touring Cars, with 30-car grids and plenty of battles throughout the field. The middle of the pack is both a boisterous and thrilling place to be, and although there’s no room for complacency I am satisfied with my performance in my first season in an ultra-competitive, front-wheel-drive championship.
Now, considerations turn to the 2018 season. I am looking at options for next season with a view to announcing my plans at the Autosport International motor racing show in January.
One race series which has caught my attention is EGT, the Electric GT Championship, because it’s new, different and visits some of the best European circuits.
You may ask why this direction, when there are so many “proper” racing series. I feel it is necessary to explore alternative fuels – and most of the leading car manufacturers support the trend for electrification. For example, Ford has committed to 13 new electric vehicle (EV) models by 2020 and BMW has announced that between 15 and 25 per cent of its group’s new cars sales will be EV by 2025. So when I received a call asking to test EGT’s Tesla racing car in the south of France, I jumped at the chance to be part of this rapidly evolving arm of motorsport.
When I arrived at Pau Arnos, an undulating circuit less than 30 minutes away from Pau, France, I was ushered towards a G-Force simulating virtual reality racing game. The reason is simple: part of the race series organisers’ vision is to bring gaming and real racing together, making each race event bursting with entertainment and interaction for fans and visitors.
Without any further delay, it was time to test the real thing. I was very excited, as I had already seen it whizzing along the start-finish straight, zoom up the hill and around the next sweeping corner; it looked fast and capable.
The first point to note was the incredible, instant torque, meaning impressive acceleration, aided by the Pirelli slick tyres. The lack of engine noise means you hear so much of everything else, which is a good thing! As a racing driver, any sound you hear is information, so being able to listen for suspension components, the track surface and tyres is a bonus.
Driving this car requires a different kind of mechanical sympathy to a traditional internal combustion engine, particularly with regard to heat management of the battery – essential for maintaining its power. I felt at one with the car straight away and couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear while driving it. I liked it, a lot.
Mark Gemmell, championship boss and CEO of Electric GT Holdings Inc, drives a Tesla on the road and is very passionate about making this kind of racing a reality. His innovative way of thinking could be good for motorsport, although there is a final hurdle that needs to be overcome – approval of the car by the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, including a mandatory crash test (which is booked for December).
After that it’s all hands on deck to ensure 20 cars are ready by June 2018, ahead of the first race – scheduled for July 20 at Assen, Holland.
EGT follows the lead of Formula E and despite being a heavier car has similar performance, with 0-60mph in 3.2sec. Other electric championships racing their way to innovation include Jaguar’s I-Pace programme, where race-prepared versions of its I-Pace electric car join the top-flight Formula E in famous cities the world over.
Electric racing may not require ear plugs but it is ready to shake up the world of motorsport with a different kind of noise: shouting to the world, “We are ready, are you?”.