“They are noisier than you might think though. They give off a duller whine with a rough edge almost like a mechanical rattle”
Electric car racing starts in Beijing, China in September, and the sight of these high-technology, battery powered single-seaters dicing around the world’s big cities could persuade the car buying public that maybe electric cars make sense after all.
That’s the rationale behind the new series, initially using the same cars made by Renault of France, and backed by €50 million of finance raised by companies like mobile chip maker Qualcomm Inc of California, Boston Celtics NBA basketball owners Causeway Media Partners, celebrity film star Leonardo DiCaprio and entrepreneur-celebrity Richard Branson.
The cars look pretty much like the Formula 1 cars used in Grand Prix racing, but don’t go quite as fast, and certainly don’t make the same ear-wrenching noise. They are noisier than you might think though. They give off a duller whine with a rough edge almost like a mechanical rattle. F1 cars can reach 210 mph-340 km/h and accelerate to 60 mph in less than two seconds. Electric cars aren’t slouches, reaching 140 mph, and 60 mph in just under three seconds. Quite fast enough for the 10 city centres around the world including Berlin, Buenos Aires, Los Angles and finally London in June 2015.
The organisers hope the evenly matched cars will provide thrilling racing with much overtaking, unlike the processional and predictable F1.
All 10 teams, including Audi Sport, Renault, Mahindra of India Racing, Virgin Racing and DiCaprio’s Venturi, will use identical carbon-fiber and aluminium chassis Spark-Renault SRT-01E cars in the first season. They are built by Spark Racing Technology of France, and use electric power-train and electronics from luxury sports car maker McLaren. Williams Advanced Engineering, part of the Williams F1 team, will provide the 200 kw lithium-ion batteries, equivalent to 266 hp. Renault will oversee systems integration.
Each driver has two cars, and at the half-way stage – after about 30 minutes – the cars drive, maybe crawl, into the pits with the pilots swapping into a car with a fresh battery. Winning drivers won’t just be the fastest. They will be the ones able to conserve power best. Eventually, chargers under the track will keep batteries full. One weird idea that will be used is so-called “fan boost”. Fans will vote on social media for their favourite three drivers, who will be allowed a few short bursts of extra power to enable overtaking.
The organisers say after the first season, teams will develop their own cars, which will spur developments to make battery cars more viable and this will have a halo effect on sales of battery-only cars by the public.
“The E Championship centres around three core values of Energy, Environment and Entertainment and is a fusion of engineering, technology, sport, design, science, music and entertainment – all combining to drive the change towards an electric future,” say the organizers.
Renault hopes, no, prays this will happen. With its partner Nissan of Japan, Renault has invested hundreds of millions of euros in battery cars after predicting 10 per cent of global car sales will be battery-only by 2020. Limited and unpredictable range, and high prices point to sales closer to one per cent. The stakes are high for Renault.