The upcoming electric GT racing series promises a number of next-gen technologies and interested EV and legacy manufacturers as competitors.
Motorsport is the cradle of automotive technology—and that’s a fact. Several motorsport-derived technologies have made their way into road cars making them safer and more efficient. Yes, critics of motorsport will argue that it encourages the wasteful consumption of fossil fuels. It is easy to think that cars hitting 200mph must be horribly inefficient, gurgling massive amounts of fuel to do so. But a closer inspection will tell you that that’s not really the case. Take for instance a modern Formula 1 car. With a thermal efficiency of around 50%, it is miles ahead when it comes to a road car’s 30% figure. However, the fact that there is still an internal combustion engine powering an F1 car is something that still gives some people (and maybe rightly so) cause for worry. There is the Formula E for carmakers to trial path-breaking EV technology, but there hasn’t been much else.
The FIA, the world’s premier motorsport body, has decided to shake things up. It has announced plans for an electric GT season and has unveiled some key details. The stunning photos aside, the new category will incorporate a level of technical freedom previously unheard of in an electric-vehicle motorsport competition. Teams will be allowed to expend their energies on battery development—a first in all-electric motorsport—in the category, which doesn’t have a start date so far.
One of the most exciting aspects of the series is the fast-charging at pit stops during the races. And by fast-charging, I mean crazy fast—the likes of which you’d have never heard of before. 700kW— that’s the magic number. The keen-eyed ones among you would notice that this is at least twice as much as what’s available for any road car in the world. This would mean that the technology would theoretically mean a pit stop of a few minutes considering the 87kWh battery and the proposed 60% charge that the cars could achieve while pitted. It might seem pedestrian, compared with the two-second pit stops that Formula 1 teams regularly pull off, but even talk of a charging cycle that lasts a few minutes is exciting when you think of it from a technological standpoint.
Teams will be able to develop two- or four-wheel drive cars under the new rules which is again something that other racing series teams typically don’t have the luxury of. Technologies like torque vectoring will also be permitted. It must be noted that the new electric GT category can employ existing GT3 cars as a base to build off or develop new cars entirely for the purpose. The electric GT racers, however, will be far quicker, as compared to the current GT3 cars. The choice to use existing GT3 cars will help keep costs in check.
The team’s custom-made battery layouts can be built using lithium-ion cells developed by Saft, a subsidiary of oil company Total which is also responsible for providing teams with the batteries for the Peugeot Le Mans Hypercar that will debut next year at the World Endurance Championship.
The maximum power output allowed in the series will be 430kW or 575bhp (similar to that of GT3 racers now) for electric GT cars, which will weigh between 1490 and 1530kg. The higher weight requirement could possibly be an attempt to prevent the use of expensive materials that could help richer teams. The two- or four-wheel drive cars can be equipped with either two or four electric motors with the battery capacity set at 87kWh.
The rules for the series with the new category of cars was finalised late last year but have so far only been released to interested manufacturers. There is speculation that the series could feature some of the bigger names in the EV space along with some legacy manufacturers as well.
The FIA stated that its electric GT category with races set on full-length race circuits “will set new standards for electric vehicles in motorsport in terms of performance and range.” FIA technical director Xavier Mestelan Pinon has stressed that the sport’s governing body wanted its new electric GT class to be relevant for the automotive industry while also aiding in its continued development. “The main technical challenges are battery development, battery integration in the cars and fast charging technology,” he said. “This is crucial to the manufacturers who want to develop road-relevant technology rather than relying on standard components.”
FIA president Jean Todt even went on to claim that the body has a “vision to make motorsport a laboratory for sustainable mobility.” “The announcement of this new electric-powered GT car category is a key milestone serving this goal, as it will pave the way for new battery and fast-charging technologies—a perfect illustration of our race-to-road approach.”
Le Mans 24 Hours-winning engineer and president of the FIA GT Commission, Leena Gade, added that there was a need for a platform that allowed manufacturers to develop and showcase their new technologies. A number of manufacturers are believed to be showing interest in the category and have been involved in the rule-making process in the FIA’s technical working groups.
The move to announce a brand-new category by the FIA comes across as a reflection of the times. The series with its focus on using and developing technologies that could easily translate to road going cars is a boon for the racing enthusiast as well as participants.