I-PACE RACER DRIVEN!
UNDER THE SKIN OF ELECTRIC JAGUAR
It is very rare that there is a total revolution in motorsport, particularly in tin-tops, but Jaguar has grabbed electric racing by the scruff of the neck. The new Jaguar I-PACE etrophy, which will support Formula E, is set to charge into life in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia in a month’s time and I was lucky enough to go to a wet Rockingham last week to get my hands on one of the new machines on behalf of Motorsport News.
The main thing I thought I knew about electric cars was that the torque was going to be there straight away. I figured that I was going to have to be gentle on the throttle initially and the power pick up would be harsh.
Although it is quite a heavy car at two tons, it still has a decent amount of power with 400PS and 700Nm of torque which all comes from the Williams Advanced Engineeringdeveloped powertrain. I was interested to find out what it would be like to drive a car with no noise. I have had an incident in the past where I was racing in British F3 and Ginetta G20s on the same day at the same track, and I accidentally left my earplugs in when I got from the singleseater into the Ginetta. In the Ginetta, it was totally silent and it was the weirdest feeling, because you can’t hear the engine on downshift and things like that. It almost knocked me off kilter. It is amazing how much a driver uses those senses when you are racing – sound helps you judge. You would have thought it was all down to feel, so you don’t realise you are reliant on the sound until you have lost that sense. I thought I was in for an interesting experience in the Jaguar. On first glimpse of the I-PACE, I could tell it is a proper car: the boffins at Jaguar Special Vehicle Operations, who have built the chassis, have done a really good job of it. The driver is sat a little bit higher up than I am used to. It sits at 1.525 metres – but the engineers have to fit the battery under where the seat is. That leads to a bit more elevation in the cockpit. Even if my touring car was set to the same ride height as that, I would still have to look up to see over the dash, because I am sat as low as possible. You simply can’t get that low in the Jag.
The layout inside the car is very familiar – it is the same dashboard as the BTCC with the Cosworth datalogger. It feels like a racing car. There were lots of buttons, and that was the additional thing that I had to get used to. I have never raced a car with adjustable Anti-lock Braking System before so I had those settings to play with. Also, because it is a four-wheel-drive car, there was another dial which could shift the way the power is delivered from 50-50 per cent front and rear axle split to 65-35 towards the rear. There was also a regeneration map that we didn’t use when I was running.
In competition, the drivers will be able to vary the car’s regeneration levels throughout the race. The I-PACE guys were telling me that they won’t need to regenerate throughout the race although some drivers are already preferring driving with a level of regeneration to help with the retardation and stability under braking.
Once I got up to speed, the first thing I noticed was that there was not a lot to do! There are no gears – I was sat there in a straight line feeling like I should be doing something. All I could do was wait. The power delivery was nowhere near as aggressive as I had pictured it. Yes, there is good torque, but it feels pretty gentle in the way it is delivered and that is down to the way the traction control works in conjunction with an electric car. It is part of the car’s brain, and it all works in unison.
It is so smooth that it almost feels like it has not got a lot of power, but that is down to the fact that each part of the car is talking to the other bits all the time in terms of traction control and things like that. It was a damp track too so on the initial power pickup it was trying to control itself.
Again, considering its weight, it was extremely nimble. It is tall too so you would expect lots of body roll, but there was none of that. The battery is on the floor, so although it is heavy, it still has a very good centre of gravity: probably not quite as good as a Subaru Levorg British Touring Car Championship car though…
With no body roll, it was harder to get the car to pitch into corners. If I was setting up a car for members of the press and anyone else to drive, I would certainly make it understeery and nice and safe. That is maybe what’s happened here. If it was me, I would like to be able to transfer the weight on the front more. You want to load up that front tyre and I like a bit of oversteer – there was none to be had.
The braking was really good. The regeneration, where it is working, is exactly the same as engine braking. I was expecting the braking to be very numb because you had lost the sound, you had lost that sense, but it really wasn’t. It surprised me how it didn’t feel odd to me. It felt right, natural, and I didn’t miss the sound. If anything, it increased the feedback for me because in the corners and on the drier parts of the circuit we were running on, I could hear the tyres. If I went off line in the wetter parts to find some grip, I could hear the pick-up and the hiss because you are on the dirty part of the circuit. I was getting a different kind of feedback. It was a surprise how natural it felt.
I know Formula E uses treaded tyres and that is one of the calling cards with electric championships. It is about road tyres, and road circuits. It was very hard to judge the level of grip from the rubber because of the conditions we were running in and I think the car will be a lot more fun in the dry. Around a very greasy Rockingham – and Rockingham when it is in that in between, slippery stage – is a nightmare. It would have been better in full wet. It would be unfair to judge the Michelins.
They even work off-road. I will get the driver excuses out of the way first... Having never dealt with adjustable ABS before, I came into the Tarzan hairpin hammering on the ABS – that was fine. Then, after a few laps, I decided to try it on a lower setting: it was doing less intervention. I hit the brakes at the same point at Tarzan and I didn’t even get to the ABS and I was able to pull the car up quite a bit shorter than I needed. So, on the next lap, I left it on that setting and I braked a little bit later…i just touched the ABS and once it kicked in it did its job and it released the brakes – and therefore it just kept going into the gravel.
It was maybe a little run through the gravel but I will tell you what: that thing handles a lot better than my HMS Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta BTCC car in the gravel trap! Four-wheel drive, nice ride height, Michelin treaded tyres – it was beautiful in the stones.
Despite that little slip, it is a really nice car and an easy one to handle and I think that will make the racing very close. Although it does feel like a proper racing car, it’s still on treaded tyres and there is a bit about it that makes it quite
like a road car. That makes it quite easy to drive initially, so therefore I think a relatively inexperienced driver would be up to pace quite quickly.
Ten years’ worth of experience isn’t going to buy you one second on lap pace. Maybe a tenth or two, so the grid will be quite close.
On street circuits, I think that brings a unique element to it, particularly because it is a touring car-type car. Also, when you have got to apex a wall, it is a different feeling. It is hard to judge. I am not sure that inexperienced drivers would take to that straight away and might spread it out a bit further.
You have to applaud Jaguar for embracing electric motorsport the way it has. It is the future, and I would love to get involved with it. It is going to be a good championship to watch. The cars aren’t trying to bite you.
Although the cars look big, the dimensions are similar to a Formula E single-seater. The I-PACE is not that wide – it is just over 2.1 metres across – so the racing and overtaking should be feasible and it is not going to just be a train of cars unable to pass each other.
It will be interesting to see how much of an effect the slipstreaming has. With a touring car, when you are in a slipstream, you lose the resistance of the air but you also lose nice cold fresh air into the intercooler which slows the car a fraction. That will not happen in an electric car. Slipstream could be a major part of this, which will be very interesting to see. I can totally picture myself lunging someone in one of the I-PACE cars.
The guys at Jaguar told me that if the battery is above 75 per cent, the regeneration doesn’t do anything. It automatically starts working – gradually – when the battery goes below that level. So nobody will have regeneration initially, so if drivers like running it with that system on, they will not have it to start with. Then they will have to balance that with the ABS, which does make a big difference – especially on treaded tyres – on the initial turn in.
Keeping your tyre temperature right is going to be crucial. Treaded tyres on a track with a two-ton car could end up melted by the end. Are you going to want to start on brand new tyres? Ideally, you want buffed tyres. Either way, tyre management is going to be an interesting one.
The events will be 25 minutes plus one lap, and that is a decent length of race and there will be plenty to keep the drivers occupied.
It might seem all serene and quiet on the outside, but there will be loads going on inside the cockpit. ■