Electric racing brings wider benefits

6 min read

The sheer amount of technology transfer that comes from the motorsport sector is hard to beat. From advanced materials to sensors technology, innovations developed for the track often end up on day to day road cars, or somewhere radically different than initially intended. Indeed, it is probably only the aerospace and defence industries that can compete in terms of technology transfer.

It is an exciting development then, when one of the UK's premier motorsport manufacturers' teams up with the former Minister of State for Science and Innovation Minister to develop and race an all-electric Le Mans Prototype (LMP1) car. This opens up the potential to develop technologies that can have applications to more mainstream industries. And that is something the project has at the top of its agenda and wants to capitalise upon. "We see a tremendous business proposition and opportunity," says Lord Drayson, managing partner at Drayson Racing Technologies and current president of the Motorsport Industry Association. "I am certainly not doing this as an enthusiast." Lord Drayson has long been an advocate of introducing cleaner technologies in to motorsport, beginning with a bio-ethanol powered Aston Martin DBRS9 GT3-spec racing car in the British GT Championship in 2009. He then went on to develop and race a 'flex-fuel' LMP1 car with Lola powered by a V10 engine from Judd in 2010. "We raced that very successfully and came third in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup behind Peugeot and Audi," says Lord Drayson. "And we got the first ever win for a biofuelled car. Coming at it from a transferability and proprietary technology point of view, we have a project with Aston University. They are working with us on some interesting technology around fuel pumps for biofuels, which we think is going to be a very interesting new product. This has come directly out of racing experience." The next stage for Lord Drayson on his quest for cleaner motorsport is a natural evolution and sees the development of the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV, an all-electric LMP1 racing car. The chassis is taken from the 2010 Lola LMP1 series, but is completely state of the art. Being used for the first time on the car are A123 batteries. This new generation of Lithium Iron phosphate batteries give the necessary power and energy density, equivalent to an 850hp engine, which is required for racing at speeds up to 200mph. The electric motors are made by YASA Motors, a spin-out company of Oxford University. YASA specifically developed its proprietary yokeless and segmented armature motors for this application. Four YASA-750 axial flux motors will propel the 700V system. This is a fairly new type of axial flux motor that has shown great promise in improving torque density when compared to other axial flux motors. The design is based around a series of magnetically separated segments that form the stator of the machine. The step change in the specific torque of the motor is 30-40Nm/kg and is typically at least two to four times better than the best alternatives and comes from the combination of patented improvements in the magnetics, the cooling and the packaging of the motor. The direct drive motor measures 350mm in diameter and 70mm wide and will fit within the space of the front or rear differential of a typical vehicle. The motors give a peak torque of 750Nm and a continuous torque of 400Nm in a lightweight package of 25kg. "We have got four of those motors, two on each wheel so there is plenty of torque," says Lord Drayson. "There is no differential; it just uses a single reduction gear to match the speed of the motors to the wheels. We then had to look at other systems on the car such as regenerative dampers. These dampers regenerate electricity, which is another key factor to this type of race car. That is another area where we went to market and the technology specific to our needs didn't exist. So we spent some money on R&D and turned it into a product ourselves." The development of the car coincides with an announcement by the FIA last year, of a new World Championship exclusively for electric cars; the FIA Formula E Championship. From 2013, all-electric machines will race around city centres on street tracks. The series will be made up of short intense races, partly because of the technology's limitations, but also because that is what, the FIA say, will appeal to a new generation of fans. These more intense short races will have a number of heats, at the moment planned to be 15 minutes long with a 30 minute charge time in between. Although this sounds relatively short, the power required to race at speeds of 200mph for 15 minutes at a time is really pushing the boundaries. To facilitate such a quick charge time, Drayson is teaming up with a company called HaloIPT, recently taken over by Qualcomm. They are developing wireless charging technology that is based on induction principles. HaloIPT uses inductive power transfer (IPT) systems for wirelessly charging electric vehicles already. Its unique wireless charging technology will be used to power high-performance cars as they race around the track. The partnership also aims to pioneer the deployment of dynamic (in-motion) charging of zero emission electric vehicles. The racing cars, fitted with HaloIPT technology, will pick up power wirelessly from transmitters buried under the surface of the road or race track, transferring power directly to the vehicle's electric battery. This will ensure that the vehicle receives constant charging on the move. Dr Anthony Thomson, chief executive of HaloIPT, says: "HaloIPT's technology has a proven heritage in dynamic charging and we are excited to be transferring this expertise to the electric vehicle market. The deal with Drayson Racing demonstrates the appetite for technology that makes driving an electric car more convenient, and this is certainly the case in the motorsport sector. Nothing could be more convenient than a race car that re-fuels itself on the track." This innovation is made possible because HaloIPT's tried and tested technology which provides a significant tolerance to misalignment over a transmitter pad and automatically adjusts for changing vertical gap. The system has the ability to intelligently distribute power, ensuring a consistent delivery of power at high speed. HaloIPT and Drayson Racing will work together on the development of electric drivetrain packages and trackside charging systems to replace the internal combustion engine and fuel pit stops. HaloIPT's technology will be marketed by Drayson Racing to the motorsport industry as affordable, practical systems for race cars and race circuits. Lord Drayson says: "Dynamic wireless charging will be a real game-changer, enabling zero emission electric vehicles to race over long periods without the need for heavy batteries. Motor racing is the ideal environment to fast-track the development of this promising technology and to prove its effectiveness. This is a milestone innovation that will have a dramatic effect not just on racing but also on the mainstream auto industry. We're looking forward to putting this technology through its paces as it charges electric race cars at speeds of up to 200 mph." Motor racing is famous for many things, but perhaps the roar of the engine is one of the most defining amongst the onslaught on the senses. While Lord Drayson concedes that it is not going to be like hearing a V8 or V10 tearing down the straight, he does say that the new electric cars sound "pretty cool". He says the lack of engine and exhaust noise means that spectators will hear a lot more of the aerodynamics. The tyre noise and whir of the electric motors will also add to the soundscape, and although it is different, it is none the less exciting and far more compatible with street circuits in city centres. And after all, it is really the racing that fans want to see. Sam Smith, from the Lola Group, says: "Le Mans last year probably had one of the best fights for the win in recent years. We had two Peugeots and one Audi all on the track at the same time and you can't hear them, as they are diesels. But no one seemed to mind about that, as the racing was amazing." Like other series of motor racing, particularly F1, the UK has an opportunity to be a leader in developing the technology and innovations which in turn should filter down in to the more mainstream engineering world. "It is very important that Britain invests in these future technologies and manufacturing capacity which is a really good strong growth area," says Lord Drayson. "The technologies that we are innovating here from racing activities are applicable to many other sectors; aerospace, clean energy, marine, they all need technologies that are, for example, lightweight, or have embedded sensors." Lola has applied its composite manufacturing knowhow specifically looking at renewable. It works with a company called Quiet Revolutions and a couple of years ago they manufactured 'figure of eight' blades and was able to apply its lightweight composite knowledge to this project. "So many people say Britain doesn't make anything anymore," says Lord Drayson. "Well that is rubbish. And this is an example of state-of-the-art manufacturing and having the knowhow to make composite parts of this complexity. Having been Science and Innovation Minister, it is such a pleasure to be able to have a vision and be able to go to British companies and get the very best technology development. We just need to shout a bit more about just how good we are at this stuff. I would say in terms of the new, innovative technology on the car, about 95% comes from the UK." Ultimately the plan is for this all-electric race series to produce cars that are faster than existing cars and spark technology transfer and track testing possibilities that will push the technical envelope of all electric powertrains forward and on to everyday road cars. From its simulations, Lola and Drayson Racing Technologies say that its all-electric LMP1 will be as quick – if not quicker – than the conventional LMP1 cars. One thing is clear, however, the motorsport world will keep a very close eye on these developments. But so to should the rest of the UK's engineering industry, to seize the opportunities from the technology it will develop and take inspiration in its success.