A ride in Cupra's 670bhp e-Racer electric touring car
Cupra’s ETCR e-Racer is an electric touring car without a series to race in, yet. But does it deserve one?
It’s an unusual scenario to engineer and build an electric racing car for a series that doesn’t officially exist yet. But that’s exactly what Cupra Racing has done.
ETCR (electric touring car racing) has been planned as a spin-off of the Europe-wide, conventionally powered TCR series for a while now. It’s allegedly due to commence next year, but only two brands (Cupra and Hyundai) have built and revealed cars that meet the specifications. Cupra Racing bosses claim they have yet to sign anything official to say they will be racing next year.
Still, since Cupra has one working example of its Leon-based e-Racer, it’s keen to show off its abilities. And that’s why I found myself with a HANS device around my neck and sitting in the passenger seat alongside racing driver and Cupra ambassador Matthias Ekström, bracing myself for hot laps of the intense Castellolí circuit outside Barcelona.
The e-Racer bears no mechanical resemblance to any Leon, with four (yes, four) separate electric motors putting a peak of 670bhp (or a continuous output of 402bhp) and 708lb ft of torque through the rear wheels only, spinning at up to 12,000rpm. That’s substantially more than the petrol TCR Leon, but then the e-Racer does weight a full 400kg more. It’ll do 0-60mph in 3.2sec, 0-124mph in 8.2sec and hit 168mph flat out.
Ekström is no novice. He’s a two-time DTM champion, has won the Race of Champions three times, has a world rallycross title to his name and even founded his own rallycross team; EKS Audi Sport. But, by his own admission, he’s had very little experience in EVs.
“It took me a while to feel confident in the car,” he says, “because there is none of the feedback you get with revs and gears. It’s also harder to judge braking points because of the extra weight, and because it’s easy to forget how fast I am going.”
“Very”, I say, as he pins the throttle out of the pits down to the first right-hander. There may be no engine noise, but the electric motors, in a car clearly shorn of mass-adding insulation, are certainly loud; at low speeds from the outside, it sounds like a combustion-engined car reversing quickly, but inside, the piercing whine is very evident even with a helmet on.
As Ekström brakes for each bend, I’m struck by how much effort is required. The e-Racer has little of the regeneration road-going EVs have, so, combined with the weight, that means braking points are earlier. However, the instant torque response, combined with the weight over the back axle, makes it far livelier than a normal TCR car, as Ekström proves by deliberately slipping the back end out with ease before the stability control reigns in the fun. It’s over quickly, however; despite the healthy 65kWh battery with 800V tech, Ekström reckons he can do little more than 10 full-bore laps of Castellolí before it needs plugging in.
That last point is still a huge barrier to electric motorsport; having to run short races, or having to switch cars mid-race, isn’t ideal. Granted, current touring car races are around 12-15 laps, but they usually run two or three races in an afternoon, so multiple cars (or at least multiple battery packs) will be needed.
Formula E may have cracked the distance factor, but only with massive investment and super-light single-seaters. Can a series with a smaller fanbase and lower budgets do the same? If the car manufacturers themselves aren’t there yet, it could take some time. The FIA World Rallycross Championship has postponed the introduction of electric cars to give more manufacturers a chance to develop the cars; will ETCR do the same?
While it’s clearly fun from behind the wheel, I also have my reservations about how EV racing of this type would play out to spectators, without the noise as an integral assault. But I’m willing to be proved wrong, so I think this requires more thorough investigation – in other words, hot laps of fun tracks.
Source: Autocar Online