As the first official FIA-endorsed world championship for single-seat electric car racing, Formula E has worked hard to change people’s preconceptions of electric cars. But while the series — now in its second official year — has successfully brought single-seat, zero-emission racing to city centres, electrifying a whole new generation of motor sports fans in the process, the series is not without its critics.
For a start, races are far shorter than traditional Formula 1 race at 50 minutes in length. The cars — limited to a top speed of 140 mph — can run for between 20 and 25 minutes at race speeds before their 28 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion batteries run flat, necessitating a car-swap mid-race. And while the high-spec motors in each car can produce a theoretical peak power of 200 kilowatts, drivers must stay below 170 kilowatts during the race (unless they have been awarded the equally controversial Fanboost facility via social-media voting ahead of the race).
Combined, say critics, Formula E isn’t a good representation of what real all-electric motorsport could be. It’s neutered, safe, and far less exciting as a consequence. What the world needs, those same critics say, is an old-fashioned race series based around high-power, long range electric race cars.
Now we’re happy to report that electric motor sports fans are going to get just that, courtesy of the Electric GT World Series. Announced this morning, the Electric GT World Series is the world’s first 100 percent electric GT championship, and will welcome a total of ten teams for its inaugural race season in 2017. In keeping with GT (Gran Tourer) tradition, the race series will be based on production electric cars you can buy today. And for now, there’s only one electric car in production around the world which fits the bill: the Tesla Model S luxury electric sports sedan.
In an official press release earlier today, Agustin Payá, Technical Director for Electric GT Holdings, revealed that the Tesla Model S P85+ — a former flagship variant of Tesla Motors’ [NASDAQ:TSLA] Model S electric car — would be the base model all ten teams will use during the series’ first season.
What’s more, the brand-new championship has already secured the support of both the Royal Spanish Motorsport Federation, and the Fédération Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA) — although at the moment it’s not yet an official FIA race series.
“It is the best zero emissions car on the road capable of racing on world class circuits in the GT category,” the cofounder and promoter of the championship said. “In its production version it accelerates faster and provides better lap times than many combustion GT cars. We chose the Tesla Model S simply because it is one of the best cars ever made, and certainly one of the best 100% electric cars. We are convinced that sharing its impressive circuit racing potential will help to inspire many people about sustainable transport.”
No stranger to motorsport, Payá is both an engineer and a professional racing car driver. In 2009, he made the switch from racing conventional gasoline-powered vehicles to zero emission cars, and became the 2015 Spanish FIA ECO Rally Champion for electric cars thanks to a successful race season in an all-electric race-prepared Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.
Why the Tesla Model S P85+ rather than the more powerful Tesla Model S P90DL which replaced it last year as Tesla’s flagship Model S?
It’s all down to the car’s suitability for racing, says Payá. Rear-wheel drive cars have traditionally been preferred for track racing for many reasons ranging from driver preference through to better cornering characteristics and weight distribution. In the case of the rear-wheel versus all-wheel drive, there’s a whole lot less complexity to deal with when it comes to quick repairs and maintenance.
But it’s also down to the impressive specifications of the original Tesla Model S P85+. In its stock form, the luxury sedan produces 310 kilowatts of power and 443 pound-feet of torque, and of course, packs an impressive 85 kilowatt-hours of energy storage. While that’s not going to give you the same 250+ miles of range on a race track as you can get on the public road, it’s certainly going to give a longer race-time than the 28-kilowatt hour pack in a Formula E race car.
“For this we count on one of the best world-class race preparation teams. We are making only small changes to the production Model S P85+ such as improved braking and aerodynamics to increase high speed grip. We will strengthen suspension, braking cooling and steering as well as reducing overall weight,” Payá explains. “The rest — powertrain, battery, programming — everything is original.
“We have been testing the car already on the Barcelona Catalunya F1 Circuit as well as the legendary Madrid Jarama circuit, both of which are being used as test and operations centers. The car’s handling is sensational. No-one could imagine that the production version of this 100% electric car would be capable of handling the circuit so well and go so fast and so far.”
Payá is joined by Scottish ex-pat, software engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Gemmell. Co-founder and CEO of Electric GT Holdings, Gemmell says the idea to form the new race series took shape last year at the Monte Carlo e-Prix.
“What promoters of Formula E are doing to spread the word about sustainable mobility is just fantastic,” he told us earlier today. “It was at the Monte Carlo e-Prix last year that we decided to move beyond the exhibitions we were planning and to investigate seriously the possibility of creating a new zero-emissions motorsport category using production cars.
“My admiration and respect for Elon Musk and everything that Tesla Motors does for the development of sustainable mobility drove me to consider the possibility of creating a championship with the Model S as a promotional platform for technology innovation, sustainable development and fossil fuel divestment. but it was when Agustin and our technical team confirmed that the Model S is more than suitable for GT racing that I decided to go global with a brand-new motor sport category.”
Like Formula E, the inaugural race series will be made up of twenty drivers and ten teams. Starting in Europe, the race series will visit different countries around the world, passing through North America and Asia en-route. Unlike Formula E — which uses temporary tracks built on city streets — the Electric GT World Series will use world-class racing circuits. So far, Electric GT Holdings says it is negotiating dates for races at Barcelona-Catalunya, Donnington Park, Mugello, Nürburgring, Assen, Estoril and Madrid Jarama. While official venues are still to be confirmed, Electric GT’s official race calendar will be announced later this year.
At each weekend-long race, visitors will be able to tour an in-field festival of technology and sustainable innovation, while we’re promised the championship itself will leverage the best in multimedia to enhance fan experience both on and off track.
Naturally, while the Tesla Model S is the only suitable production car for use in the Electric GT race series right now, its founders say future models from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and others — perhaps even Rimac if it brings a production car to market — will also be welcome to join in the fun. Ultimately they say, Electric GT World Series will be a celebration of all the high-powered electric supercars on sale around the world.
Globally, the idea of electric car racing is hardly new. In Japan for example, we’ve seen electric car racing take place for many years on local circuits, while similar one-off events in the U.S. have sought to bring electric car racing into the public eye. Other than Formula E however, we’ve yet to see a successful global electric car race series for fans to get their teeth into.
With GT far more popular in many countries than single-seat Formula-style racing, we think Electric GT Holdings might just be onto something.
We’ll be sure to bring you more news as we have it, but in the meantime we’re curious as to what you think of this exciting announcement. Who would you like to see racing in the inaugural Electric GT series? Will you follow it? And will you be in line when tickets become available for the first season?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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