If you watched Ford v Ferrari, the fantastic 2019 movie tracing Ford’s effort to overtake Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans Formula 1 car race, you understand how important racing can be for building an automobile brand. It can also help develop new technologies for consumer vehicles. That same story is playing out today as storied brands of auto racing compete on the growing EV racing circuit, the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.
The folks from Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), companies both owned by India’s Tata Group, recently took me on a journey through their efforts to leverage Formula E to help rebrand Jaguar as a leader in electric vehicles (EVs). “Formula E is a real-world test bed for EV technology,” says James Barclay, team principal at Jaguar TCS Racing. “It’s an engaging sport, but a sport with a purpose: improving sustainability.”
In Jaguar’s racing saga, Barclay has a role comparable to that of famed auto designer Carroll Shelby, who was played by Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari.
Formula E racing is already paying off for Jaguar. Competing on the circuit helped the company learn how to improve the range of its electric I-PACE SUV by 8 percent, to 292 miles per charge. “Formula E drives innovation into everything the company does,” says Varun Kapur, TCS vice president and senior managing partner for Sustainable Manufacturing.
His group has been working with Jaguar for a decade on run-the-business software. Now, using analytics and cloud technology, among other tools, it is helping improve the design of cars—including mechanical systems, telematics, and battery charging. TCS became the racing team’s digital technology partner early this year.
Kapur relishes the collaboration. “How do we make our planet better? How do we make it more sustainable?” he asks. “We feel Formula E is a very good platform for achieving these goals. It’s the only competitive event that is sustainable from day one.”
If you’re in the New York City area, you can see the e-racers for yourself. The New York City ePrix is July 16 and 17 at the Brooklyn Street Circuit, a 1.5-mile course in the Red Hook neighborhood. Each race lasts about 45 minutes.
One big difference between Formula E and Formula 1 is the noise level. Formula 1’s internal-combustion engines are so loud that many fans must wear ear plugs. In contrast, Formula E cars only make a cool low whirring sound, which comes not from the engine but from the gear box. That’s just one of many differences with Formula 1—including the cars’ power source, energy efficiency, braking technology, and racing strategy.
Jaguar is a fabled British maker of distinctive and stylish sports cars, but ones with a reputation for poor reliability. Tata purchased the company along with Land Rover in 2008 and created Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. Under Tata, Jaguar has continued to struggle in the marketplace, but the company is determined to improve reliability and set itself apart as the first of traditional automaker to go all-electric. Jaguar announced the first all-electric SUV, the I-PACE, in 2018. It pledges that all its models will be electric by 2025.
Jaguar had been a long-time participant in Formula 1 racing, but dropped out in 2005. In 2015, spurred in part by the bold ambitions of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the company decided to re-enter racing—this time with EVs.
Other teams competing in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship include Avalanche Andretti, Porsche, Nissan, and Mercedes-EQ.
The chassis for all Formula E cars are the same–designed by Spark Racing Technology, a French racing car specialist. Strict rules govern capabilities, including capping power output at 250Kw and battery capacity at 54kWh in the current generation of cars—but the teams are free to innovate with the design and management of the motor and powertrain.
The cars achieve top speeds of 174 miles per hour and accelerate from zero to 62mph in a blazing 2.8 seconds. They recapture energy from the braking systems, with up to one-third of the energy consumed in a race coming from braking. “The focus of Formula E is on improving power generation, brakes, and materials. Every thousandth-of-a-second counts,” says Barclay.
The teams use one car for each race and one type of tire for all situations. The worn tires are recycled. Jaguar TCS Racing gets all of its electricity from green sources.
Digital technology is fast becoming a key team differentiator. The teams use sophisticated software systems to manage the entire powertrain. For instance, each car wheel has a motor attached, and the software monitors, analyzes, and orchestrates the motors’ performance.
The teams often update software between each race. Data scientists build digital-twin models of the powertrain systems and run racing simulations. As a result, the teams are able to find the gaps between the ideal and the real—and make improvements based on that knowledge.
It’s paying off. At Jaguar TCS Racing, driver Mitch Evans didn’t have a strong start this racing season, but, aided in part by comparing simulations with the actual performance of his car in the first three rounds, he later won three races and finished second in another.
That digital-twin technology is also producing improvements in battery performance. Engineers build a software model of the power storage and charging system and run simulations to test the algorithms that manage charging and discharging batteries. The digital twins can also test the impact of potential changes in the batteries’ chemical composition. “This is much more efficient than physical testing of battery prototypes. With the simulations, we can stand up thousands of tests simultaneously,” says Mike Chapman, TCS North America’s head of eMobility and Battery technology
Chapman expects the work on Formula E batteries to help advance collaborations his group at TCS is doing with energy utilities and auto companies. The goal is to fulfill the vision of the electrical vehicle virtual power plant, or EVVPP. As electrification of vehicles, buildings, and homes continues to take off, electric utility companies will be under extreme pressure to increase their production and distribution capacity. That’s an expensive proposition. But what if the batteries in EVs are used as storage systems for the grid? Energy stored in those batteries could be discharged into the grid at times of peak demand and peak prices, and the EV batteries could be recharged at times of low demand when prices per kilowatt are lower.
Pioneering companies in the utility, auto, and information technology industries are working on fulfilling this vision. Step one is developing vehicle-to-grid energy transfer technology. Step two is creating bidirectional charging stations. Other key components are software systems for managing charging station networks and distributed energy resources. “The overall net effect is flattening the demand curve for the utility–and the consumer makes a profit,” says Chapman.
TCS hopes to play a role in integrating all of these systems. One of its first forays is working with Pacific Gas & Electric on a proof of concept for a bidirectional charging station.
Executives from TCS and Jaguar are excited about helping enable major changes in the way energy is produced, distributed, and consumed. Kapur says his 22-year-old daughter has inspired him to get even more serious about sustainability. He foresees using a lot more recyclable material in autos and batteries. “We need a circular economy. Sustainability has to be built into the way we design things. That’s coming,” he says.
For Jaguar’s James Barclay, auto racing is in his blood. He grew up in South Africa next to the famous Kyalami racetrack. During Grand Prix and Formula One competitions, he was drawn to the roar of the engines—and climbed over a fence to watch the races. “I love the sport and I’m honored now to represent an iconic brand,” Barclay says. “We’re making this sport safer and greener. It means our sport lives on into the future.”