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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. ■

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