We have seen exciting new championships spring up that aim to be more environmentally friendly. Take the rapidly expanding Formula E which has taken its all-electric series to all four corners of the globe.
Formula E’s founder Alejandro Agag is adamant that the future of motorsport will be powered by renewable energy - indicating more change is to come over the next few decades.
“The main motorsport will be electric,” he tells Eurosport. “Electric cars are having a slower adoption by the mass public, but it will happen very quickly. We are working to push that and speed that up. When that happens, motorsport will have to be electric. I think other series will still exist, but it will have to be a classic motorsport.”
Joining them in their electric-powered mission is Extreme E whereby eSUV vehicles will race in the most remote and inhospitable parts of the world. Now, in 2020, electric flying cars are even beginning to emerge into our world of motorsport. Thanks to the new motorsport series Airspeeder, it could be that electric technology will be used in our skies from 2021.
CHANGE IS COMING
The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) has been successfully formed around loud noise, dirt and ferocious machines. However, the series is due to reform when hybrid technology arrives on the scene in 2022 in what is the biggest change in technical regulations since the arrival of Group A in 1987.
The highly successful Ford-powered M-Sport rally team - which is based in the UK - is one of the outfits driving forward this hybrid technology. The Ford-backed team is highly decorated with both accolades and rally experience; having won various titles including the 2017 Manufacturers & Drivers Championship and 2018 Drivers Championship.
“It is a completely new set of regulations around not just the hybrid but the whole rally car,” M-Sport Team Principal Richard Millener tells Eurosport. The team is currently working hard to develop their 2022 Ford-hybrid machine which will be raced at events across the world.
It has been a big hurdle with the fact that we are changing everything for 2022 and introducing another powersource which we have never had before.
The M-Sport team is keen to mention the instrumental role Ford is playing here in the introduction of the technology, whereby the manufacturer has driven the hybrid implementation along with the FIA.
“We are only about 200 people in the UK and we are calling on the whole expertise of the Ford company which is great,” he says. “Hopefully, it will allow us to build another successful car. Last time the regulations changed like this, our car won the championship two years in a row.”
FORD DRIVES WRC HYBRID TECHNOLOGY
This year, the WRC season was put on hold for four months and during this downtime teams were allowed to continue their development. Richard views this as a positive as he and Ford got to work on the hybrid technology and begin to fine-tune the details.
“That was a really good time for us to concentrate heavily on the new car for 2022,” he says. “We have had some good time to spend on that and we have learnt how to work together even more.
“Without them [Ford] and their support, it would not be possible to do. They have so many resources and we rely on them to work with them. The majority of our technology, work and the improvement of the design of our hybrid design comes from our Ford engineering colleagues.”
HYDROGEN POWER TO LAUNCH AT LE MANS IN 2024
The WRC is not the only championship rethinking the technology it uses. Also striving towards sustainable engineering is the 24 Hours of Le Mans and its initiator, and president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, Pierre Fillon.
With Mission H24, the greatest endurance race in the world will run a class of solely hydrogen-powered cars in the 2024 24-hour race - rather fitting with its name and the home of fundamental technologies in motorsport.
“We have no choice [to evolve],” says Pierre Fillon. “The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the home of innovation and, if motorsport does not go with the innovation of racing, then there is no future for the sport.”
Le Mans has brought some great technological advancements to the automotive industry. We have the race to thank for the introduction of brake disks after they were run in the 1953 edition of the event. Then, in the Sixties, a time of Ford domination, quartz iodine headlamps were invented. In 1998, it was the turn of the hybrid engine - something that has been instrumental in changing the DNA of cars of the future.
“We have been working on hydrogen technology since 2017,” says Fillon. “We are convinced that we will need a transition period for zero emission technology. We think our project is incredibly important to accelerate the zero emission projects in the car industry.”
Another newcomer in electric racing is Projekt E, which is the electric version of classic Rallycross. It is no surprise that this exciting venture is backed by some big names in the industry, with Ken Block driving the Ford Fiesta ERX at the first event in Holjes in August and was indeed crowned the inaugural race winner. In fact, Ford dominated the first round of the series with a top-three lockout on the podium, showing that international leaders in the automotive industry are making serious efforts to innovate in motorsport.
Projekt-E has been in the pipeline for over a decade and has been a meticulously planned project filled with technological advancements that engineers have had to adapt to.
This is not the only innovative and ambitious project that the team at Ford has been involved with. Brian Novak is a Motorsport Supervisor who leads several technical teams at Ford Performance and has been overseeing the Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 and the Mustang Mach-E 1400 projects.
“The goals of both those programmes have been learning test beds for Ford Motor Company and Ford Performance.”
We started a test bed for us at Ford Performance to learn how to race a super high performance electric car, but also to transfer that knowledge back to the mainstream.
The manufacturer is constantly learning and using batteries to develop a better understanding of its configuration and capabilities.
“A very key thing with electric vehicles is how do you control them?” he says. “From a powertrain control standpoint and the range. That is very important.”
ELECTRIC FLYING CARS
There are also additional motorsport technologies to explore including Airspeeder which could become the world’s first flying car racing series. Its founder and CEO Matthew Pearson is confident that their technology will propel the mission to have flying taxis in the near future too - showing that more efforts are being made to reinvent motorsport.
“I wanted to create a mechanism through racing to create the ultimate flying car,” he says. “The flying cars that people desperately want, the fantasy vehicles that everyone would love to own, drive, fly - Airspeeder is the crucible to create this.”
Airspeeder is currently testing its unmanned MK3 design which is a full-scale model of the MK4 Speeder. In 2021 and beyond, they will race in some of the most dramatic landscapes across the world, with their first pilot-led flight taking place next year.
Motorsports is at a crossroad at the moment
Pearson says. “Airspeeder can be the answer to this and what is the pinnacle of motorsport in the 21st century. We are driving a 2D race and transforming it into a 3D format.
Airspeeder will race on entirely electric technology, proving motorsport is taking another step away from fossil fuels.
“The technologies are transformational with collision avoidance technologies, autonomous vehicles and electric battery innovation which moves the transition to a sustainable future,” he says.
With the likes of Ford, M-Sport and Airspeeder, the generations to come look to enjoy a fast and furious sport that is better for our planet, introduces state of the art technology and one that tests the engineers to the very limit to achieve sporting greatness.
By Helena Hicks