Greenlight for new Electroc prototype

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Electric Lola-Drayson LMP machine tests the waters for 2013 FIA championship

The new Lola-Drayson B12/69-EV all-electric Le Mans Prototype has been hailed as a test car to prove that electric power can be as competitive as petrol or diesel, a possible future contender at Le Mans and a showcase for future technologies.

It is all of the above, but perhaps most importantly, it’s a way to test the waters ahead of the new FIA Formula E Championship which will start next year. The governing body has put a tender out to supply cars for the series and the Lola-Drayson tie up aims to be a step ahead of its rivals.

“The regulations the FIA has published are very open so that they encourage innovation,” the owner of Drayson Racing Technologies, Lord Paul Drayson, tells me. “The cars will look very radical, and unlike anything else we’ve seen as a racing car. That’s mainly down to the fact that the FIA is promoting low drag rather than high downforce. It doesn’t want people spending lots of money on wind tunnels, but it does want people to spend money on innovation in the drivetrain and coming up with ideas to reduce drag. That’s why we’ve got moveable flaps [which act like DRS in Formula 1] on the Lola-Drayson car.”

The decision to build it on an existing LMP chassis from Lola was mostly down to Drayson Racing running a petrol-powered Lola-Judd in 2009 and 2010. “We’ve got a load of data on the Lola chassis from those two years,” says Drayson, “and now we’ve converted it to electric power we will be able to compare, which will give us some clear feedback on the electric drive and the direction we need to go in for the Formula E Championship.”

The conversion hasn’t been without its problems. “The battery pack and the installation of the motors and gearboxes were the biggest challenge,” Julian Sole, the chief designer of the car at Lola, tells me. “It wasn’t a case of designing a chassis to wrap around the battery pack and so trying to keep the weight distribution at a sensible point, and installing all the components, was definitely a challenge.”

The car is now almost complete, though, and the figures are impressive. It’s hoped that the car will be faster than a conventionally powered LMP1, which Drayson hopes to prove this year with time-attacks on a hill climb, circuit and street track. The electrical components have been developed by YASA Motors and Cosworth, and the four electric motors will put out an impressive 850bhp. However, carrying an extra 100kg compared with its petrol- and diesel-powered cousins means the car will have to make the most of its moveable aero.

Of course, electric racing may seem ridiculous for some since most electric cars can’t go very far without a lengthy charge. The Formula E rounds will include four 15-minute races with30 minutes between each to allow cars to be recharged, but this is no longer the only way forward. Replacing batteries between races becomes prohibitively expensive, and sends out the wrong kind of environmental message, so what if there was a way that the cars could
charge while actually moving? It sounds a little futuristic, doesn’t it?

You may already use the technology that will make this possible. “It’s the same principle as an electric toothbrush,” says Drayson. “You stick that on the stand and it charges without any metal contact. The technology was invented in New Zealand and has been acquired by Qualcomm, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of wireless devices for smart phones. It transfers energy through wireless magnetic induction from a pad on the ground to a
pad on the car.”

At the moment the car has to be stationary. However, the interesting thing for motor racing is that – in principle – it could work with dynamic charging, when the car is moving. “You would have coils in the road and as the car drives over them it could be charged as it moves,” Drayson continues. “At
Silverstone you could have the technology on the racing line if you wanted. It’s probably three to five years away from being developed sufficiently to be used in a racing environment, but we’re really excited about it.”

The B12/69-EV, according to Drayson, will manage 20 minutes of running, at full power, before it needs charging so it could already cope with the 15-minute races proposed for next year, but imagine what could be achievedif the pad system could be made to work. Twenty four-hour electric races through the streets of Paris? Don’t bet against it because the Formula E Championship is going to be run on street circuits rather than existing tracks.

“It’s going to be a new type of racing,” admits Drayson. “The races will be on normal streets so that the championship can exploit the fact that the cars aren’t as noisy as F1 cars and also have zero emissions. In both cases they are in line with transport policies in cities like Paris and
New York.”

The electric Lola-Drayson has certainly been an expensive investment for Drayson Racing Technologies, but Lord Drayson is keen to point out that the level of expenditure will change. “The cost isn’t in a different league to LMP cars. Electric cars are more expensive and the reason is that they are very early prototypes and the economies of scale haven’t kicked in. John Judd [Engine Developments] makes lots of racing engines every year, while there is only one Drayson Racing drivetrain in existence – and that is on the prototype. Ballpark pricing for the Formula E race cars is going to be slightly more expensive, but in the same order of magnitude, as an LMP1 machine.”

The FIA will announce which manufacturers will be able to build cars for the Formula E Championship on March 15. Hopefully we will not only see some interesting technology as a result, but also that the FIA makes the most of a completely clean sheet of paper. With races coming to the streets where we live, motor sport can be opened up to a much wider public.
Ed Foster

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