Driven's guide to the world of electric motorsport
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Formula E: With global “destination city” races and strong manufacturer involvement, the modern face of electric motorsport is the FIA Formula E Series.
It completed its fifth season this month and while it still has detractors — common complaints are the cars are too slow and the tracks too tight — there’s no doubting the attraction of Formula E to car manufacturers wanting to showcase electric relevance.
The 2018-19 season saw the introduction of a second-generation car and eliminated the mid-race “car swap” pitstop that had been required in earlier seasons. Formula E will develop with increased performance and wider technical freedom.
Land speed records: The late-1890s and early 1900s saw electricity, steam and internal combustion engines in a race for automotive superiority.
The first car purpose-built to vie for the land speed record and exceed 100km/h was electric.
The torpedo-shaped La Jamais Contente driven by its Belgian creator Camille Jenatzy clocked 105.88km/h near Paris in 1899. Electric cars dominated the initial years of land speed record breaking before the first internal combustion engine record of 120.80km/h was set in 1902.
Today the FIA recognises the land speed record for electric vehicles as 549.43km/h set by the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 streamliner in September 2016 at Bonneville.
Hillclimbs: The Pikes Peak Hillclimb in Colorado, US was first contested in 1916. The daunting 20km climb that reaches an finish line altitude of 4300m is ideal to showcase the high torque and traction attributes of EVs.
New Zealander Rhys Millen was the first outright Pikes Peak winner driving an EV — the eO PP03 in 2015. Since 2018 the outright record has belonged to the Volkswagen ID.R electric prototype driven by Frenchman Romain Dumas.
Dumas and the Volkswagen ID.R have also beaten the 20-year-old hillclimb record at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Motorcycles: Another century-old event at the forefront of electric racing is the Isle of Man TT and it’s arguably the best benchmark for modern electric performance improvements.
The inaugural TTXGP electric bike race was held during the 2009 TT and won at an average speed (one lap from a standing start) at 87.43mph (approx 140.6km/h). The race was renamed TT-Zero in 2010 and it took a further three years for the initial target of a 100mph (approx 160.9km/h) lap average to be beaten.
The TT Zero record set during the 2019 TT Race Week by Michael Rutter is 121.91mph (approx 196.1km/h) on the Mugen Shinden and electric bikes are now faster around the TT circuit than conventional 650cc Super Twin machines.
The inaugural Moto-E World Cup debuted this month at the German GP with a grid of 18 bikes. The 2019 season features six races at four MotoGP weekends with expansion expected in 2020.
Drag racing: In the world of quarter-mile racing, 87-year-old “Big Daddy” Don Garlits has set aside a lifetime of driving and tuning nitromethane dragsters in a quest for electric records.
His electric Swamp Rat 37 set the quarter-mile record at 7.274s and 185.6mph (298.6km/h) in 2014 and Garlits’ new car — which is substantially lighter — reset the record to 7.235s and 189.04mph (304.23km/h) at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida last weekend.
The future: Rallycross is a sport ideally suited to electric power — short duration arena races for high-powered cars with emphasis on all-wheel drive traction. Plans for an electric World Rallycross Championship in 2020 were delayed but the latest FIA World Motorsport Council meeting announced plans for electric cars to debut in the world championship from 2021. Initially cars will have a control-spec powertrain achieving 400-500kW and will race against existing rallycross supercars. Also due to launch in 2021 is Extreme E, an offroad series with five races in extreme environments which have been damaged or affected by climate and environmental issues. Extreme E is operated in association with Formula E.