Jaguar Land Rover is plugging into battery power in a big way. It plans to not only launch electrified drivetrain options for every vehicle in its line-up but is making a big push into electric racing.
Already one of the growing list of manufacturers competing in the Formula E series, the Jaguar side of the British automaker this week announced the world’s first production battery-electric vehicle race series.
The 10-event series will showcase JLR’s first battery-electric model, the I-Pace eTrophy to serve as a support series for Formula E. The program will be opened to anyone “holding the relevant international race license,” the automaker announced, though there will be a “VIP driver” at every race, as well.
Jaguar, which abandoned the Formula One series after a less-than-stellar performance returned to racing in 2016 as the first premium brand to participate in the Formula E series. Other upscale manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have since signed on.
For now, Formula E requires participants are set to use identical vehicles, though that rule will be phased out in the coming years, participants being eventually allowed to rely on their own battery packs, electric drivetrains and other components.
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The I-Pace eTrophy, on the other hand, will see drivers take to the field in I-Pace electric SUVs modified by Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations. The debut of the new series in late 2018 will coincide with the retail launch of the I-Pace.
“With the launch of the (new series) we have strengthened our commitment to battery electric vehicles, international motorsport and Formula E,” said Gerd Mäuser, chairman of Jaguar Racing.
Exact specifications of both the retail and race versions of the I-Pace haven’t yet been released, though the show car version unveiled at the Los Angeles Motor Show last November was equipped with four electric motors, each directing power to an individual wheel.
Together, the four motors in the concept I-Pace were said to make 395 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, drawing power from a 90 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. In street trim, that was said to provide enough energy to deliver around 300 miles of range, though Jaguar promised the I-Pace could also hit 60 in under four seconds.
“The bottom line is this SUV will be fast,” said Vehicle Line Director Ian Hoban, during the L.A. unveiling last autumn.
The four-motor drivetrain layout could prove particularly effective on the track allowing torque vectoring simply by increasing or reducing the amount of power sent to each wheel.
The eTrophy SUVs will be equipped with roll cages, a competition suspension, rear wing, diffuser and other enhancements developed by JLR’s SVO unit.
In all, 10 of the warm-up races will take place during the fifth season of Formula E and will hit major cities including Paris, Rome, New York, Moscow and Sao Paolo.
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“We’ve always said we want to prove our electrification technologies on the track – this is the proof,” said Jaguar Racing chairman Gerd Mäuser, adding that, “Ultimately, this innovative series will enhance the technology in our future electric vehicles and benefit our customers.”
Up to 20 drivers will be able to participate, and Jaguar is offering what it calls the “Arrive and Drive” package. That means drivers will simply have to show up on time, the British maker committing to maintain and ready the electric SUVs ahead of each race. That will include vehicle transportation and the cost of tires and other replacement parts.
With JLR just one of a growing line-up of manufacturers now committing billions of dollars in investments to bring literally hundreds of electrified vehicles to market over the next decade, industry executives are hoping that the classic mantra, “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday,” will prove true.
Formula E has been gaining support since its debut but still has only a modest following compared to traditional series like NASCAR, Indy Car or Formula One. Series promoters have been struggling to pack more in on race day. Another brand-based support program, featuring race-tuned versions of the Volkswagen Golf-e, generated relatively little enthusiasm last year. Meanwhile, plans for a support race featuring complete driverless “robot race cars” has been delayed.
For his part, Formula E founder and CEO Alejandro Agag hailed Jaguar’s announcement, declaring himself “deighted that we will be adding to our race-day schedule with a competitive new support series for season five. The Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy will bring more entertainment for fans in-between sessions and will be a further testament to the advances in battery technology and exciting electric performance.”
Perhaps the biggest advancement Formula E needs, according to skeptics, is a better battery. Right now, drivers must switch cars halfway through each race. But several manufacturer participants told TheDetroitBureau.com this week that this could happen within the next two to four years as significant improvements in battery technology appear on the horizon.
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For its part, Jaguar eTrophy drivers will have to work hard and fast, going from green to checkered flag in just 30 minutes.