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The Ugly Truth About Electric Racing Cars

FondTech E-11

FondTech E-11 (FondTech)

The era of electric automobile racing is upon us. Can you hear the excitement?

Probably not. Those things are pretty quiet.

Nevertheless, battery-powered motorcycles are already competing on an international level and cars are quickly coming up to speed. More and more of the zero emissions racers are showing up on drag strips across the country and no less than two electric cars (make that exactly two) took part in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb earlier this year.

Next up: open wheel racing.

The organizing group behind the Formula One World Championship, the FIA, has announced plans to launch the Formula E all-electric racing series in 2013. We now have our first look at what the cars might look like when they hit the grid.

And it ain’t pretty.

The E-11 is a proposal for a Formula E car from a European outfit called FondTech. It’s ungainly design looking less like the fighter plane sleek F1 cars of today and more along the lines of a Super Guppy. This from a company that does aerodynamic consulting work for existing race teams and owns its own wind tunnel.

But, as is the case with F1 cars, form follows function with the E-11. Its tallboy design is necessitated by a large lithium-ion battery pack located low and in the middle of the car to optimize its center of gravity for handling purposes and protect it in the event of a crash. As a result, the driver sits on top of it.

A more mid-engine car there never was.

Sporting very small wings front and rear, the E-11 relies more on the traction provided by its all-wheel-drive system – there is an individual electric motor located in each wheel hub – than aerodynamic downforce. Rather, the design of the car offers a low-drag shape to increase speed on the straights and maximize energy efficiency.

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That last point is of utmost importance because, as with road cars, the battery pack is the car’s weakest and heaviest link. Even given the obviously large size of the one utilized by the E-11 – though its exact specifications have not been detailed – the car is projected to have a racing range of less than 20 minutes, or about 30 miles.

That’s about half the length of a typical Formula 3 race and apparently what the FIA has in mind for Formula E’s first season. Mid-race recharging and battery swaps are not expected to figure into the rules. But for the short time that they are on the track, performance of the FE cars should be on par with their F3 counterparts, even if they don’t look quite as good in the process.

Nevertheless, the E-11 (we’d love to see 1 through 10) is just one possible example of the face of Formula E. Concepts from more constructors are sure to follow as the rules are written and interest in the series grows. Toyota is even hoping to get into the game as a manufacturer of the powertrains that the cars will use. One of its prototypes fitted with the technology recently set the electric car lap record at Germany’s 13-mile Nurburgring Nordschleife race course.

Of course, as far as we know, it only did the one lap.

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