Two-Time Rolex 24 Winner Farfus Enjoys Working on Development of Electrified Race Car
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Touring Car (TCR) is arguably the most universal form of auto racing around the globe. World Sporting Consulting Group (WSC) administrates roughly two dozen championships, including the FIA World Touring Cup and the TCR class of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
The current basic TCR formula for four- or five-door production-based cars featuring a 2.0-liter, fossil-fuel engine producing about 350 horsepower dates to 2014. But TCR racing is about to literally get a jolt with the introduction of ETCR – fully electrified versions of TCR cars that showcase astonishing short-range performance.
The Pure ETCR series, which will include a series of rapid-fire elimination races similar to Global RallyCross, is slated to debut in June at the Vallelunga circuit in Italy. Four manufacturers have signed up so far, and with electrification driving major changes in the auto industry.
"We could see automotive energy moving in this direction, so we started thinking about a series for a fully electrified touring car," said WSC Group President Marcello Lotti. "We must educate the fans and let them understand that exciting motorsport competition is possible with these new technologies, and I am very confident this will happen."
IMSA is paying close attention to the process. IMSA President John Doonan is keenly aware of the opportunities that ETCR potentially presents for the sanctioning body’s partners and race fans.
"The IMSA platform is based around the partnership of our 18 auto manufacturers and providing a cost-effective marketing tool for the auto industry," Doonan said. "Marcello’s doing it all over the world. We’re honored to be his exclusive partner here in the United States to put TCR and ETCR on the racetrack, and our automotive partners or the market will speak. We’ll continue to work with Marcello and his team on the time that we can bring ETCR hopefully to the IMSA portfolio sooner rather than later."
To that end, WSC and IMSA arranged for veteran sports car pilot Augusto Farfus to demonstrate the Veloster N ETCR that Hyundai Motorsport has developed for the Pure ETCR series at Daytona International Speedway in the lead-up to the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Farfus ran a couple laps around the 3.56-mile DIS road course immediately prior to the four-hour Pilot Challenge race on Friday, Jan. 29.
To say the electric racer is far more exotic than it looks would be an understatement. Pretty much everything under the Veloster bodywork is bespoke compared to the similar-looking Hyundais that have dominated the TCR class Pilot Challenge competition the last two years.
"It’s a very unique concept for racing cars and series," observed Farfus, a two-time Rolex 24 winner in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. "I joined this project from the very early stages and it’s quite exciting. It’s very different to everything I have done. We have made many positive steps along the way.
"For me it’s been an extremely pleasant learning experience," he continued. "I enjoy every lap I do, and along with all the engineers around me, we are learning a new race car."
Farfus said driving the car for the first time "was like the first day of school." He had to take a safety class to learn the potential hazards involved with an electric car, and he had to acclimatize to not having a clutch or a standard gearbox. The ETCR’s four electric motors directly drive the rear wheels.
"There is very little experience (from traditional race cars) I can transfer," Farfus said. "The entire ‘read’ of the car, the behavior – it’s completely different. The biggest difference is the noise, of course. It’s almost like driving in silence, and you can hear the tires.
"You have to drive the car pretty hard," he added. "There is no energy management at the moment, no ‘lift and coast’ like we see in different electric formulas. That’s a challenge for the engineers because we have to develop a real race car with a real sprint spirit of attacking every lap."
Lotti declared that the ETCR cars are already faster than the gasoline- and diesel-powered TCR cars that compete around the world. While Farfus did not try to achieve a lap time at Daytona, he did demonstrate the electric Hyundai’s impressive acceleration after IMSA officials cleared pit lane. The car shot forward with astounding speed and the familiar high-pitched whine of an electric motor.
"The car is very fast," he said with a grin. "Electric power is delivered instantly, so when you have 500 kilowatts (680 horsepower), soon you are going very fast!"
And if Doonan has his way, those fast electrified cars will be competing at an IMSA event near you in the not-too-distant future.
"We want to be the platform, we want to be the opportunity in markets that make the most sense for our manufacturer partners," Doonan said. "The work that Marcello and his team have done to get this to become reality is Step 1. Now it’s our responsibility to work with our existing manufacturers to see what they would like to do to leverage the opportunity."
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship returns to action March 17-20 with another iconic endurance event, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. The Pilot Challenge races that same weekend at Sebring International Raceway with the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120.