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How the Formula E racing series affects tomorrow’s electric cars

Contributor: Jens Häberle
Posted: 11/19/2014
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Automotive IQ recently spoke with Jens Håberle, former DTM car racer and now System Engineer at Audi Sport Team ABT Sportsline, about the Formula E racing series and its impact on tomorrow’s electric cars.

You are working for a quite exiting part of the industry, given that it is motorsport. Could you give us an insight into your background and how you got into what you are doing?

I’ve been studying mechanical engineering in Munich. After that I started to work for a research project in Kempten, Austria where we had 40 purely electric cars. We’ve been working on data acquisition and did some energy models with the cars, so that’s how I got into electric cars. Then I started to work in the DTM, German Touring Car Championship and simultaneously we did some engineering. So now we are building a Volkswagen caddy - a pure electric one for the German post. So I got to know both sides, the pure electric one for electric vehicles and one of motor sport vehicles with DTM. So that’s how I got there.

So what’s your engineering experience in motorsport?

I’ve been in all races for two years and worked mainly with the driver on the engine. In the DTM you have two engineers per car: One is working on data acquisition with the driver, and the other one works on the set up of the car. So I work with the driver and tell him how to drive.

Definitely the dream job for a lot of people.

Yes. It’s not too bad. But it is a lot of hard work and very tense, on race dates it can be up to 24 hours.

Could you tell us a little bit about the Formula E that you are involved with and some of the particular challenges the circuit poses?

We have both, setting up the car from a dynamic side and setting up the whole power train. There my main job is the job of a system engineer. So we are setting up all the stuff in the power train and the task is to get as much power out of the car as possible. Although energy counts, having more power out of the car is an advantage as well.

How are the requirements for the electric power train parts, are they different then traditional race cars?

The normal car from the dynamic side is quite the same. It’s a standard chassis from Dallara. But for sure, the electric part is totally different. In the end the task is the same: To be as fast as possible. But there are more things to do. So in the end you have to look at the highest power output with the lowest energy consumption, which is a bit of a challenge.

Have you faced things like i.e. less parts to break and therefore things are a little bit easier in that sense?

Yes, I mean the system is easier than a normal combustion engine. You have way less parts, but they work differently. What is really important is the thermic management. Because you have two different cooling sides: The motor and the inverter cooling. Because temperature in the motor can go up to 140°, 160°. And then you have the battery side. Because battery has to stay between 25° and 60° and these are really important aspects to consider.

Is everyone in the race using the same type of engine? The same power batteries?

In the first year all the cars are the same. They are made by a company called Spark. They have been working together with Williams, McLaren and Renault. Renault is doing the integration of the whole system into the car. Dallara did the chassis. McLaren did the motor, the inverter and the MCU. And Williams did the battery. For this year all 40 cars are the same. We have 40 cars for 20 drivers. We are changing the car instead of doing a pit stop with wheal change, because the energy does not last the whole race and we want to race for one hour. So we are swapping cars about every 25 minutes. So the first year the cars are the same. During the second year each team is allowed to have its own power train. Everything between the wheel and the battery can be changed. Wheel and battery have to stay the same.

Ok. So everything is a lot more individual. It must be quite fun to work on. So can you tell us a little bit about how the technology of the series can be applied to road cars, if at all possible?

Our main sponsor is Schaeffler, automotive prove. And they are working together with Continental. They are supplier for all the big automotive companies like Volkswagen and Renault. And everything we do there is going into the road cars.

In your view, are there some particular promising technologies that are being tested in the series that we might see in the next few years in production?

I think on the side of the motor there will be some new stuff. It will be very interesting to see the different technical parts of the different companies, because you are pretty free with the stuff you are doing. And so there will be a lot of difference between the systems and I think that a lot of interesting things are going to come out of the series. But the battery aspect is going to be especially interesting. Because the third year of the series the battery is going to be free as well. Right now we are already working on this part of the car.

Are there going to be different battery chemistries that people will test and things like that?

In racing you have different possibilities, because the budget is not that tight. The safety has to be considered, and it is really safe right now. But you can push it a bit more to the edge, like you do it in the road car. So it will be interesting, because our main focus is going to be able to race a whole race with one car and with one battery.

That would be a huge accomplishment for sure. Does that mean that you guys have budget to do things like active thermal load balancing and things like that?

Sure. There are already systems that you can buy on the active balancing side.

Often time’s passive systems are used because of costs. I guess you guys don’t have that cost issues. You can test out some different active systems.

Yes, we do. But the thing on the cell side is: It would be more interesting to have a better cell and thermal management, because if you have a big mass of battery cells, you have a problem. We are now racing now with 200kg of cells. The thermal management for this part of the car, as well as it’s lifespan on a road car while its aging, is really important. Because the worse the thermal management gets, the faster it ages. It is bad for the cell if there is a substantial difference between the outside to the inside of the cell.

I guess that is the beauty of racing. You can test in all sorts of extreme conditions. Could you give us a hint on what kind of motors types we might see being used in the future?

I think that the motor itself won’t be that different. Right now most of the teams use a synchronic motor, a hybrid system, which uses in part permanent magnets and in part a standard electric system. But if I think of how many motors are going to be used, how the gearbox will look like, because right now we are racing with a 5-speed gearbox, which for sure is not the best one and how the rpm’s output is going to be, there is going to be a huge difference. Weight is a key issue, to get a good lap time. This will be more interesting than the motor itself.

How about any other applications in the future, something to look forward for?

I think in the third year you’ll be allowed to have a 4-weel drive.

Nice! I look forward to that. It’ll ad some excitement to it in some ways.

Sure. It is something that is really interesting right now. We are recuperating a lot. Right now we have 25% of recuperation. And we are just recuperating on the rear. So if we could recuperate on the front we could get up to 50% of the energy back that we wasted already.

Looking towards the future, in your opinion, what needs to happen in order for more electric power and to gain a greater market penetration and acceptance?

Like always, the price of the system has to go down. The price has to be at least similar to the combustion engine. Then the saving per kilometer in comparison is going to be very interesting. If you have to spend a lot more money buying the car, with the disadvantage of the kilometers you can go. This will be the key.

It all comes down to costs. Do you feel like making any predictions on when we might see a significant uptake of EV’s or electrical power trains?

I think it might go the other way around. When Diesel and Gas get more expensive, the electrical systems are getting more interesting. The German Post for example has already bought expensive EV’s cars and covered the cost of their cars afterwards. So the cost of the cars as such is not as important, as having a low cost driving the car.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you, for your interest in, How the Formula E racing series affects tomorrow’s electric cars.
Contributor: Jens Häberle