Lotus has deep roots in motorsports and as the automotive world begins shifting to battery propulsion, the British company wants to stake a role in electric racing, as well.
Already working up its first street-legal battery-electric vehicle, the Evija hypercar, Lotus Engineering today revealed what it imagines a long-range endurance racer could look like come 2030. The Lotus E-R9 draws inspiration as much from “a fighter jet,” the company says, as from the classic Le Mans racers driven by company founder Colin Chapman.
Why is Lotus looking ahead a full decade, rather than targeting something more immediate? “Battery energy density and power density are developing significantly year on year,” said Louis Kerr, the principal platform engineer on the Evija project. “Before 2030, we’ll have mixed cell chemistry batteries that give the best of both worlds, as well as the ability to ‘hot-swap’ batteries during pitstops.”
From digital design to the race track
For the moment, the E-R9 exists only in virtual reality, as a set of math data and computer-generated renderings. But the idea was to take the battery-electric powertrain developed for the Evija and see how it might fit into a long-distance racer.
The E-R9’s driver sits as far up front as possible and benefits from wraparound glass for maximum visibility.
The images Lotus offered up are intriguing, vaguely calling to mind the Delta Wing race car developed out of a collaboration between Nissan and Panoz about a decade back. The E-R9, like a fighter jet, depends on aerodynamics, although in this case it’s to extend range, as well as to improve performance and handling.
“Morphing” body panels
“Chief among the car’s aero innovations are its ‘morphing’ body panels,” according to Lotus. “Located across the delta-wing profile, this adaptability – where active surfaces can change their shape and attitude to the air flow either at the press of a button by the driver or automatically according to performance sensor inputs – would deliver minimum drag on the straights and maximum downforce in the corners.”
Also borrowing from aerospace design, the E-R9 features vertical control surfaces at the back end to help steer it through corners, enhancing whatever grip the car gets from its tire patches.
“The result,” Lotus said, “is a racer that’s partly driven like a car and partly flown like a fighter jet.”
In terms of power, the British engineering company isn’t offering much in the way of details, at least when it comes to how many motors the E-R9 would use and where they’d be placed. And it only hints at the concept behind its battery pack, referencing “mixed-cell chemistry.” While some form of lithium-ion technology is likely to dominate a decade from now, there could be a variety of different formulations, including new solid-state cells. A racer like E-R9 could mix-and-match batteries, some offering better range, others higher performance.
And, while most experts anticipate major improvements in charging times, there’s little likelihood that could match the mere seconds now needed to refuel a vehicle running on gasoline or other liquid fuels. So, the alternative would be to either swap cars, pause the race, or — as Lotus suggests — opt for swapping out drained batteries for fresh ones.
“What we’ve tried to do is to push the boundaries of where we are technically today and extrapolate into the future,” said Lotus Chief Aerodynamicist Richard Hill. “The Lotus E-R9 incorporates technologies which we fully expect to develop and be practical. Lotus has an amazing history of developing unique solutions, and we’ve done it many times in motorsport and with our road cars.”
What seems clear is that there will be a lot more racing powered by batteries – or perhaps even fuel-cells – a decade from now. We’ve already seen the pioneering Formula E program gain traction, with a second series, Extreme E, set to launch this year. Formula One, IndyCar and other, traditional
“I think (all auto racing series) will have to go electric or they will have no relevance,” Formula E organizer Alejandro Agag said during an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com in 2019. The Lotus E-R9 prototype suggests there are many in the racing world taking that seriously.