Electrifying the future of motorsport
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Hybrids and Electrified Vehicles are a growing part of international motor racing – a new regulatory framework from Motorsport UK takes the lead in helping competitors, manufacturers and series organisers embrace this new technology.
Hybrids and full electric vehicles are fast becoming a fixture of daily driving for more and more of us. Motorsport has, inevitably, been blazing a trail for this automotive revolution with flagship series such as F1 long-since adopting battery assistance and hybrids now winning at Le Mans and beyond. From BTCC to WRC, batteries and motors will play a bigger role in the sport, reflecting a tradition of technology filtering from racing to the road since the earliest days of motoring.At a national motorsport level what does this mean? With innovation being one of Motorsport UK’s key investment pillars, it’s a question the National Governing Body has been facing and now addressed with new regulations for electrified motorsport, intended to encourage and enable competitors, manufacturers, race organisers and clubs alike.
As an FIA Autorité Sportive Nationale (or ASN), Motorsport UK is blazing a trail for national-level electrified competition, to the benefit of both grassroots competitors and the many teams, manufacturers and supply networks contributing to the UK’s £10 billion motorsport industry. “Innovation is a crucial area of investment if we are to deliver a sustainable future for motorsport, and clearly Electrified Vehicles are central to this,” says Motorsport UK CEO Hugh Chambers.
“We have been working on this framework for many months and it is a very exciting area for our sport. This is happening alongside developments in electrified karting and it is now within our grasp to have hybrid or electric power across all levels of motorsport.” In short, it’s nothing less than the futureproofing of the sport.
To understand the bigger story, Revolution has been talking to the people behind the headlines, the pioneering privateers who helped inspire them and examines what it means for everyone involved. Michael Duncan is Motorsport UK’s Technical Manager and has been closely involved in the project. While not the work of a moment, the initiative has been helped by the lessons already learned in the global series Electrified Vehicles already compete in.
“The FIA has existing technical regulations for Electrified Vehicles but they’re at a very high level,” explains Duncan. “We have tried as much as possible to align with FIA definitions and terminology to work out how we can apply those to domestic competition. So, there is a lot of crossover in terms of eligibility, and a car that applies to FIA regulations should be compliant with ours.”
“Innovation is a crucial area of investment if we are to deliver a sustainable future for motorsport, and clearly Electrified Vehicles are central to this” Hugh Chambers, Motorsport UK
One job of regulation is to ensure a level playing field for competitors and encouragement for promotors to deliver accessible, exciting racing across all disciplines. But safety is another huge concern, especially with the introduction of brand-new technology.
Protocols for dealing with vehicles carrying large quantities of combustible liquid are, of course, well established. Calming fears of how to handle high voltages in similar situations is another key area the new guidelines seek to address. Motorsport UK’s Technical Commissioner, Roger Ratley, brings with him valuable experience as both a competitor and from his day job as electric vehicle manager at Ford, a role he’s recently moved to after a long career as an engineer for both internal combustion and electrified powertrains.
Training for officials and scrutineers is a key ‘enabler’ for hybrid and pure electric vehicles to compete safely and fairly, and Roger’s appreciation of both aspects has proved invaluable to the framing of the regulations. “The beauty of an electric powertrain is that it’s very easy to calculate the power output and we can design scrutineering systems that are in some ways simpler than more traditional methods of fuel flow restrictors and suchlike,” he says.
“In touring cars, for instance, that means rather than use ‘success ballast’ we’ll be able to adjust electric assistance to maintain close competition.” Roger says he’s happy scrutineering a car with a laptop, while conceding not everyone will be as confident dealing with black boxes. “Part of the education I’ve done for the scrutineers is to get them to understand you have access to a huge amount of data and the regulations give us the right to install a logger and examine it, so we can shut the door if things get out of hand.” He’s also determined the rules reward ingenuity, not spending power, especially where Electrified Vehicles compete alongside regular internal-combustion powered ones.
“We’ve tried to write the regulations so a well-funded individual or team can’t blitz the field and we’ve limited the power to keep things competitive,” he says. “You need to strike a balance and we’ve done in a way that will hopefully encourage people to do something new and exciting.”
“Calming fears of how to handle high voltages in similar situations is another key area the new guidelines seek to address”
When it comes to safety, Roger’s insight has also been invaluable, given his day job involves training and safety regulations for technicians working on electrified passenger cars and commercial vehicles across large dealer networks.
Adapting similar processes is a key part of the safety framework included in the regulations. “We’re intending to mirror how the motor industry operates with EV training,” explains Michael Duncan. “The IMI [Institute of the Motoring Industry] has various levels of training for technicians according to how involved they need to be with the vehicles, and we have something equivalent to level 1 already for our scrutineers through training modules.
We’d encourage everyone from a marshal to the clerk of the course where Electrified Vehicles may be competing to complete the necessary training.” Guidance, including High Voltage Electrified Vehicle awareness training for scrutineers and safety crews, is now available on Motorsport UK’s Learning Hub. Specific training will be tailored to suit particular jobs, while all competitors entering Electrified Vehicles will have to provide specific safety and recovery information for their car, much as EV manufacturers like Tesla do for the emergency services on the public road.
But outside of series such as WRC and BTCC, where are officials likely to encounter an electrified vehicle in the present or nearfuture? ‘Speed’ events such as hillclimbs and sprints are attractive to potential electric racers, especially at a grassroots level. “These events lend themselves to EVs as you want to deploy a huge amount of power over a short distance or space of time,” says Roger Ratley.
“We’ve written the regulations so someone who’s reasonably competent can build something competitive and, as it evolves, there will be far more opportunities in the future.” While EVs have previously been permitted to run in various disciplines Michael Duncan admits the regulations were skewed against them at a practical level. That hasn’t stopped a few determined trailblazers though, and their experience has proved valuable. One example includes eRally Motorsport, which has been rallying an all-electric Renault Zoe for a number of years now.
“The idea took shape around 10 years ago when we started a conversation regarding the Tesla Roadster and how its green technology was fast becoming a performance technology,” explains eRally’s Jean Hay. “Ellya Gold [eRally co-founder] and I had always felt a little uncomfortable about how our love of competing in a Mitsubishi Evo VI was a bit at odds with our growing environmental concerns. eRally Motorsport Ltd was set up to help blaze the trail for a major shift in UK motorsports towards fullyelectric competition cars, allowing a more environmentally responsible and sustainable option to futureproof the sport we love.”
Having spotted the potential in the Renault Zoe for creating an affordable, electricpowered rally car for junior competitors, eRally then had to convince regulators it was safe to compete with. “Coming from a health and safety background, I could see the challenges would all be around the event organisers’ risk assessments and training for marshals, rescue, recovery and scrutineers,” explains Jean.
“I attended several marshal training and rescue and recovery training weekends to find out what their concerns and thoughts regarding electric vehicles were. I organised a walk round the car before every event and emailed the hand-out sheet to Motorsport UK prior to the event for their input and approval. I also sat with the rescue team when our car was competing as the IMI level 2 EV Tech first responder, so I could ensure the 400V traction battery was disconnected before anyone worked on the car.”
It’s credit to Jean and the team that they not only embraced the practical challenge of rallying an EV, but also managed to convince regulators it was viable. How did they manage it?
“Lots of communication,” says Jean, simply. “I called the technical department and emailed the health and safety director and explained in great detail what we wanted to do, how much we understood the risks and how we planned to reduce them as far as reasonably practicable. I think my research into suitable, approved and well tested lithium-ion fire extinguishers with encapsulator agents or cooling agents to negate the requirement to have tens of thousands of litres of water on hand may have helped too.” Having put in all that legwork does she now hope others will follow? “I think more competitors might branch out and explore this exciting new technology if they know their event entries will be accepted and welcomed,” she says.
“Having spotted the potential in the Renault Zoe for creating an affordable, electric-powered rally car for junior competitors, eRally then had to convince regulators it was safe to compete”
“It will make it a lot simpler and less daunting for event organisers to run classes for EVs. I understand how much responsibility, effort and time goes into organising and running an event, so clear guidance for all concerned is key. The Motorsport UK electric vehicle e-learning course now available online should go a long way to dispel some myths, make volunteers and officials aware of the hazards and feel more confident around EVs.”
One of the first series likely to benefit from the new regulations and hold national-level EV motorsport is the Electro Rallycross Championship running as part of the 5 Nations British Rallycross Championship. “In this changing world it is important British motorsport is not left behind,” says series organiser Shirley Gibson. “Electric vehicles will be well suited to rallycross. Out on the track they have already proved they equal the spectacular sight found in other rallycross divisions, providing close, fast, racing.”
The theory has already been tested with Fiat 500s and Ford Fiestas built by Polishbased Elimen Racing, the latter capable of 100mph, 0-62mph in less than four seconds and capable of charging in just 10 minutes. “Teams racing in the series will find that running the electric cars offers affordability,” enthuses Shirley. “In addition, the electric cars have been found to be easier to drive and control. The lack of driver distraction was one of the positives mentioned in the feedback forms completed by the British rallycross drivers who have already driven them.” Working with Motorsport UK to create a framework in which the cars can compete has been a challenge, but one Shirley and her team have embraced. “A regulatory framework is essential to create not only a level playing field, but also to ensure safety,” she says.
“Elimen Racing Electric Rallycross cars have passed all the tests required to assist in compiling a set of regulations that work for us all.” COVID-19 notwithstanding they’re still hoping to have held their first event before the end of the year, encouraged by competitive arrive-and-drive packages for competitors. Speaking more generally, Motorsport UK’s Michael Duncan is keen to see more hybrids and EVs competing at all levels.
“A regulatory framework is essential to create not only a level playing field, but to ensure safety.” Shirley Gibson, Electro Rallycross Championship
“We’ve written it to be as accessible as possible at the grassroots end,” he says. “If you’ve got a production EV you don’t have to modify it at all – you can compete with it as it came out of the showroom. So, you could buy your Tesla and hillclimb it the next day without any changes – the opportunities are great and there’s no reason to treat an EV any differently at an autotest than you would on the road.”
The impact of these changes won’t be felt overnight. But with organisers hopefully confident they can admit Electrified Vehicles, officials satisfied they have the training and support to manage them safely, and competitors and manufacturers keen to embrace the opportunities they represent, now is the time to throw the weight of the regulatory body behind electrified motorsport. And embrace a new age in automotive competition.