Kicking up an electric storm

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Jaguar’s new I-Pace eTrophy will form the undercard at Formula E events next season, but is the new challenger up to the task? – James Mills

It was Bob Tasca, a friend of Carroll Shelby, who coined the phrase, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

Tasca was a Ford dealer who had a knack for turning Mustangs into hot rods and smoking the competition at drag strips. After winning races on a Sunday, sports car fans would turn up at his Rhode Island dealership on a Monday, buying cars or upgrading parts.

So when the likes of Chevrolet and Pontiac started to leave the Mustang trailing, Tasca called on his racing experience to put it at the front of the grid.

In 1967, he fitted a Mustang fastback with a 428 cubic inch V8, in a bid to create the fastest muscle car on the road, and named it the KR-8 – King of the Road ’68.

After driving it then stripping the engine for inspection, Ford executives were so impressed they put the conversion into production and the legendary Mustang 428 Cobra Jet was born.

Tasca and Ford weren’t the first to put pedal to the metal on a Sunday and peddle their wares on a Monday, but Tasca succinctly captured why big brands wanted to go racing.

Fifty years have since passed, but Jaguar is following the mantra. Executives have bet the family silver on an electric car strategy, speculating that with the rise of battery-powered machines Jaguar has an opportunity to take a lead in an area of the car market that is predicted to boom. By 2030, the International Energy Agency expects there to be 125 million electric cars on the road. Last year, there were just three million.

In the race from the start line, Jaguar has successfully brought its I-Pace to showrooms before mainstream competitors have an electric car to sell. More electric models will follow; earlier this year, Jaguar Land Rover announced it would increase spending on research, development and manufacturing of hybrid and electric cars by a quarter, to £13.5bn, over the next three years. (Ford will reportedly spend only half that over the next five years.)

To prove the technology, put it in front of people and create a buzz, the British car maker is going racing.

After joining the Formula E Championship before its German rivals, in 2016, Jaguar has launched a one-make racing championship for electric cars – the I-Pace eTrophy.

“We’ve always said we want to prove our electrification technologies on the track – this is the proof,” says Gerd Mäuser, chairman of Jaguar Racing. “Ultimately this innovative series will enhance the technology in our future electric vehicles and benefit our customers.”

The tactics may be familiar, but the racing is a breath of fresh air – as it has to be, if Jaguar is to attract new, younger customers. But as more car manufacturers look to reach consumers with a message of electric dreams, is it a sign of things to come in motor racing?

The I-Pace eTrophy will support Formula E at 10 of its 12 rounds, with races taking place at some of the world’s most glamorous cities. From Paris to Rome, Hong Kong to New York, it is a far cry from turning up at a wet, windswept Silverstone.

Instead of paying a small fortune for fried food, race goers can plan a stop at a favourite restaurant. The lure of high street therapy means events attract more than dyed in the wool motor sport fans. And because the racing cars are quiet and clean, spectators don’t risk leaving with ringing ears and sore eyes.

Formula E has shown that the different environment can attract a different audience to most motor racing championships. Last season, it reported a 347 per cent growth in online engagement from users aged 13-17 compared to 2016/17.

“Our priority is to target the younger demographic and we are succeeding in this,” Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E, has said, citing how half the fans engaging with the championship on Facebook are under 25. “We can see also that there are many kids attending our events and that they get really get excited with Formula E, so it is almost a generational thing,” added Agag.

The new support championship will feature 20 identical Jaguar I-Paces. Designed and built by Jaguar Racing, and with the driving dynamics tuned by Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division, these are not especially light, fast or challenging racing machines. But so long as the racing is close, the fans likely won’t mind.

By using composite and carbon fibre bodywork over the aluminium chassis, Jaguar Racing has lowered the kerb weight from 2133kg to 1965kg. Colin Ramsden, the chief engineer, admits it’s not light, but stresses: “The driver feedback is very good and importantly it doesn’t feel its weight.”

The electric powertrain hardware – a 90kW/h, 600kg battery pack, and two electric motors – is the same as the road car’s (which makes 395hp and 513Ib ft of torque), but Ramsden hints that changes to the software might have lifted those figures a touch.

Drivers will have little to do, as there’s no gearchanging, given that it’s a single-speed transmission. You just arm the system, engage ‘Drive’ and go.

It builds speed briskly – Jaguar Racing says 0-62mph takes 4.5sec – but the flat torque curve and relative silence mean it’s far from dramatic.

However, this can be deceptive. At Silverstone’s Stowe circuit there are a couple of quick sections that run into tight left-hand turns. Without the audible reference point of a howling engine note, you initially find yourself carrying too much speed into the slower corners.

Where this could result in an embarrassing ‘off’ in some racing machines, the I-Pace feels vice-free, as it’s four-wheel-drive and tuned to behave in a neutral, predictable fashion, with just enough adjustability to correct the nose-led stance of the car as you ease off the throttle.

It’s not a machine that will require, ahem, balls of steel to master.

The most impressive aspect, perhaps, is the stopping power of the AP Racing brakes, which feature adjustable settings for the anti-lock engagement and retain the I-Pace’s regenerative effect. The pedal calls for plenty of muscle power, but once you’ve warmed your thigh and calf muscles as much as the steel brake discs, these more than anything prove a defining feature of the car’s performance on track.

Unusually, the cars will run on road tyres – Michelin Pilot Sports. Jaguar Racing says these have lasted the distance comfortably in testing, and help make the car more mobile. So, from a driver’s perspective, it would seem the challenge of each 30-minute race will be to maintain momentum at all costs whilst jostling for position.

The calibre of drivers expressing an interest is said to be of a good international standard. Former Champ Car and DTM driver Katherine Legge is the first to confirm she will race in the series. Others are coming from IndyCar, Formula 2 and GTs.

But the price is, quite literally, high. The cars cost £200,000 to buy, or £65,000 to lease for a season, and Jaguar Racing charges a further £450,000 as part of the championship’s ‘arrive n’ drive’ approach.

However, just as Jaguar views the significant sum required to race alongside Formula E as a necessary investment to help sell electric cars, so drivers sizing up new championships like the eTrophy are likely to see them as a tactical stepping stone.

Win races and you might just win the attention of factory teams in Formula E, where every driver’s dream of paid drives and sponsors potentially awaits.

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