How Formula E could forge road cars of the future

With the world’s motorsport governing body, the FIA, announcing the Formula E electric-only motorsport series for 2013, you’d be excused for thinking the new street-circuit based championship is another irrelevant high-end race series. But you’d be wrong.

In fact, Formula E is almost certainly the future, and not just of racing cars, but for road cars, too. The Formula E race series brings real potential for the development of future road car technology.

The exact regulations for the new racing series have yet to be finalised. However, the FIA has set out certain goals for the new championship, highlighting:

“It must pay particular focus on established global car manufacturers, new entrants in the automotive market or significant regional players, and EV technology OEM companies” and “attract wide public interest, including interest from non-traditional motor sport targets.”

This bit is significant. In the past, disc, and then later, carbon-fibre brakes, direct injection, dual-clutch gearboxes and variable turbine geometry turbos were all developments pioneered through endurance racing that have filtered down onto road cars. As such, the development of electric race vehicles could see massive gains reflected in the fledgling road car EV market.

One of the championship’s possible contenders was revealed recently at the 2012 Autosport International show: the Drayson-Lola B12/69EV.

The new car has been built specifically to compete in Formula E and is powered by a fully-electric drivetrain that produces a significant 850hp. Combined with a kerb weight of 1085kg, the latest Lola actually has a better power-to-weight ratio than the petrol-powered LMP1 Le Mans cars on which it’s based.

The new Lola also features all-new technology too, such as a system called torque-steer. This is not the wayward handling trait associated with some front-wheel drive cars, but a system designed to deliver a differing amount of power to the rear wheels, improving the car’s handling and ability to turn. This shows how EV technology could benefit future road vehicles.

Drayson Racing team boss and former Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Paul Drayson, told Autosport magazine: “Torque-steer is very relevant to road-car technology.
"The challenges of high-performance electric motor cooling are also very relevant, and the fact the cars are going to be raced on streets right at the heart of cities makes it very relevant to the agenda of people, and that's what motorsport has to target."

With the potential to massively further the development of core EV technology and associated all-new features, Formula E looks very interesting indeed.