Electric Racing Needs More Juice For Primetime

Right now, I’m watching the replay of last Saturday’s 2.1-mile street circuit race around Beijing’s Olympic Stadium.  The course fits the bill.  The race cars resemble Indy Cars.  The announcers are tracking the progress of Senna, Prost and Piquet.  These are names of Formula One champions but this race is clearly something that’s ‘next generation’. 


The sounds coming from the track may be more suitable for the 1982 version of the sci-fi movie Tron.  It’s a tone that was tolerated by the family as you or your child worked the remote control car through the apex between the living room and kitchen.  It’s that familiar electric motor sound.  Its Formula E, the world’s first fully-electric racing series.


Formula One ‘made some noise’ by downgrading from the 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engines to 1.6-liter V6 turbo engines.  The tamer exhaust note drew vociferous discontent from the F1 faithful.  Racing fans love hearing the grunt, the growl and the roaring decibels of the racing machines.  The sounds we love fit right in there with the sights and the smells.  Its tradition.  Its the whole package.  It all just seems right.


Viewing Formula E gives me a feeling that I’m witnessing what could be behind-the-scenes action at a science expo.  To be fair, I’m much more interested in the science behind electric racing than the uninspiring racing product itself.  Give us more roar, more speed and more competitiveness.  Society will eventually gain from the garage and track time – and that cannot be diminished - but the racing product is not ready for TV. 


Damn you, Tron.  You set the bar too high for E racing.  Check the following formula… E = I * Z.  E is voltage, I is current and Z is impedance (a circuit’s resistance to current).  The drive of automotive science will provide the current.  In its present state, E racing will face resistance from fans of today’s racing.  It simply needs more ‘juice’ to be fit for primetime.  

Richard Williams