Jaguar’s Formula E car is co-sponsored by Panasonic, which provides the batteries.

The pandemic-shortened Formula E season just wrapped up, but the all-electric racing series will be back on track soon, according to organizers – and that’s good news as far as Jaguar Land Rover is concerned.

The British automaker has been an active proponent for battery-car racing, both with Formula E and its own eTrophy series. They provide an obvious PR boost for the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace SUV, but there are other benefits, Jaguar officials noted during a webinar this week. Racing helps engineers improve products like the I-Pace. But, in turn, that production model is also helping improve the Jaguar racing program.

“To be competitive on road and track you have to keep up with the pace of technical developments and change,” said James Barclay, head of Jaguar’s electric vehicle racing program, which includes Formula E.  What happens on the track, he added, “has a real relevance back to (production) cars” like the I-Pace.

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There have been a number of improvements to the electric SUV since it was launched in Europe in mid-2018 – U.S. sales following that October. Some have come from Formula E, which is a rigidly regulated series where manufacturers run dart-like racers essentially identical but for their powertrains. Jaguar has also sponsored what is essentially a stock series, the eTrophy, where the I-Pace undergoes only modest updates, and most of those for safety reasons, such as the addition of a roll cage.

Cars line up on the grid for the start of a race in Jaguar’s eTrophy race.

It’s the eTrophy that has yielded one of the most significant improvements in the production iPace, according to Barclay. “As a result of (our) learnings,” he said, “we’ve been able to deliver a complementary software upgrade” to the production vehicle “that’s delivered up to an additional 12 miles per charge.” The U.S. version of the SUV now is EPA-rated at 234 miles range.

With both Formula E and the eTrophy, Jaguar engineers have focused heavily on software updates which have a “huge” impact on a vehicle like the I-Pace, including not only range but performance and creature comfort, added Stephen Boulter, the SUV’s vehicle engineering manager.

Of course, it helps to have the ability to do smartphone-style over-the-air updates to the I-Pace, rather than requiring owners to bring the vehicles back to a dealer, he said.

Like rival Tesla, Jaguar has been closely monitoring data uploaded from production SUVs for insight into how they perform in the real world. That is added to what Boulter called “the incredible wealth of knowledge” derived from Jaguar’s electric racing efforts.

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Along with the boost in I-Pace range, the automaker has used its learnings to reprogram the behavior of the active air vanes at the front of the vehicle which are opened when cooling air is needed. Other updates include:

  • Using more of the battery pack’s “state-of-charge,” drawing deeper than was originally planned because that has proved less risky to long-term battery life;

    The Jaguar I-Pace has received a number of race-derived updates, among other things adding 12 miles more range.

  • The I-Pace now has a more powerful onboard charger, but it also has been reprogrammed to speed up charging, whether at home or at a high-speed public facility;
  • The SUV’s regenerative braking system has been revised to kick in sooner, helping recapture more energy normally lost as heat;
  • The torque balance between the front and rear motors has been reprogrammed to better enhance both grip and performance.

There have been a handful of other changes to the I-Pace since its introduction, including the addition of a camera-based rearview mirror and enhancements to the car’s 360-degree video system. But the most significant updates have been software based, with much of that influenced by what Jaguar has learned on track.

At the same time, the feedback goes both ways, Jaguar enhancing its race effort with information gleaned from data generated by millions of miles of driving on public roads.

Most importantly, the automaker found a way to use the speed sign recognition system from the production car to help its race drivers track what their competitors are doing and that, said Boulter, “has actually been used by the race cars so they can go faster.”

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In part due to the pandemic, Jaguar is now dropping the eTrophy series, but it plans to continue in Formula E and hopes that the beneficial link between racing and production will continue.

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