TechBite on Electrification in Motorsports

Key insights taken from the IET Automotive and Road Transport Systems (ARTS) Network’s seminar on Electrification in Motorsports 

Road car manufactures are under growing pressure to produce electric or hybrid vehicles in the drive to create more efficient vehicles, with global sales of electric vehicles (EVs) forecast to exceed over 40m units by 2040 (Bloomberg New Energy). Many believe the biggest ‘enabler’ has been the push towards autonomous vehicles.

“That’s enough for current car companies to focus on electrification and turn it into a business. Now they’re looking at ways to reduce cost and improve reliability, I think all the solutions are out there; it’s just putting them together in a way that makes sense from a business point of view,” says Mark Preston, CEO of PrestonEV.

Electric racing  

But electrification of cars hasn’t just touched the consumer market; it’s also creating change within the motorsport sector, such as the creation of Formula E, a class of auto racing that uses only electric-powered cars.

“The pace of electrification of road cars is rapidly accelerating – the move towards hybrid and electric cars is gathering momentum,” says David Lapworth, Technical Director, Prodrive. “Whether we like it or not we have to face up to it in motorsport. There are many areas where crossover of technology between the two sectors is important. Motorsport is embracing electrification and now has to decide on the right approaches for the different areas of the sport, such as endurance racing and Formula 1 (F1).”

Leading the way

The motorsport sector is often known for leading the way in automotive engineering and technology. For example, the Williams’ Formula E battery and hybrid Jaguar C-X75 were born out of the Williams Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) technology, developed for F1.

“Whilst Formula E is still in its infancy I believe that it will become a driver of electric vehicle technology in the future,” says Doug Campling, Chief Engineer at Williams Advanced Engineering. “It’s been demonstrated that there is an appetite for an electric racing programme and therefore a push to develop this technology and the boundaries are being pushed in a variety of ways across all kinds of sectors.”


Related content: why not attend Electrification in Motorsport on 08 March 2018 at the Coventry Transport Museum


Using end of life batteries for home energy storage

Alongside developing new EV technology, Williams is involved in a project taking end-of-life car batteries and trialing them as an energy storage unit for homes. It has also developed a Pedelec system for light duty applications.

But there remain many challenges facing engineers, such as energy storage limitations and efficiency. Another major challenge is thermal control as the batteries require extensive cooling. Plus concerns exist around safety.

Safety issues

“Outside of F1, endurance racing and Formula E regulations are almost non-existent,” highlights Lapworth. “Nobody’s ready for it and there’s a whole new world of safety issues to consider. Everything we’ve got is based on petrol fuel tanks and hot exhaust pipes. Certainly, most at the sport’s grass roots level aren’t ready to deal with 600 volts and lithium ion batteries in car crashes. I’d like to encourage people to get a bit more ahead of the game.”

There’s still much work to be done, but engineers are keen to face the challenges head on and believe their work today will lead to innovation and advancements in a whole plethora of areas.

“The motorsport industry is not the only sector that will benefit from this technology,” notes Campling. “I fully expect to see energy recovery systems, battery systems and electric motors being used in more and more applications.”

Join the conversation!

Visit the IET ARTS Community at www.theiet.org/automotive and discuss the future of motorsports with engineers and technicians from around the world.