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  • Writer's pictureAndy Pilgrim

Our Pro Racer Tests the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Race Car

Not a lot of power, but expect the races to be entertaining

The introduction of the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Championship occurred recently at the Silverstone motorsports complex, home of the Formula 1 British Grand Prix. Jaguar Racing director James Barclay was quick to reference Jaguar's storied racing history, and my thoughts went immediately to the legendary Jaguar D-types from the 1950s. Jaguar much later dabbled in F1 in the early 2000s, in Prototype GT racing in the '80s and '90s, and nowadays we see the new F-Type SVR GT4 in competition. Jaguar officially entered into the Formula E fray for the series' third season (2016/2017) with its I-Type2. (Formula E seasons normally begin in Asia around November.)

A handful of automotive companies are involved in racing almost permanently, some never. Jaguar is somewhere in the middle, and its in-and-out approach is linked more to sales and budget rather than to lack of corporate interest. Engineers, designers, and media folks don't usually make decisions about racing, but the Jaguar team I met at Silverstone showed genuine enthusiasm for the new I-Pace racing endeavor, something that was great to see and hear. Indeed, recent signs have shown Jaguar walking the performance-marketing road again: In November 2017, a "near production"-spec (Jag's words) XE SV Project 8 smashed the Nurburgring four-door saloon/sedan lap record with a 7-minute, 21.23-second time. That was 11 seconds quicker than the previous record holder, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

The weather was picture perfect as we arrived at Silverstone, where a tiny one-lane bridge led us over the F1 layout to the Stowe Circuit. Stowe lies completely inside the main F1 track and is used mostly for testing and tuning. It's an interesting track, in a high-speed-autocross kind of way.

The main reason for being here was to drive the new I-Pace eTrophy electric race car. First, though, I climbed aboard an I-Pace street car for an interesting, gated-autocross-style exercise. An area the size of maybe half of a football field featured eight random gates denoted by cones. The cones flashed green (drive through) or blue (next gate to turn green), then red when the test was over. It was an exceptionally slow-speed course, but handily showed the I-Pace's "right now" acceleration, braking, and excellent low-speed handling.

Really, though, we were here to better understand Jaguar's involvement in electric racing. As you probably know, Formula E uses all-electric formula-style race cars, with events held on temporary city-street circuits. In 2018, New York was the only U.S. venue for a series that holds rounds on five continents. The argument in favor of Formula E is that it is directly relevant to the fast-growing trend toward all-electric vehicles. Several major automotive companies are players in Formula E; the series hoped to have four large corporate series sponsors by 2018 yet it already has 10. Six of those 10 are automobile manufacturers: Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Renault, and Jaguar. ABB corporation, which specializes in fast-charging technology and recently signed on as title sponsor, has made the official series name the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

Formula E's second-generation race car is due next season; apparently it's a major move forward in design, power, and handling. Also addressed was the present need for teams to utilize two cars during each race, due to battery-life limitations. The irony of this apparent inefficiency compared to the series' desired "green" image was not lost on the organizers, so the new car will run entire races on one charge.

But those Formula E machines won't be the only all-electric cars racing on the series' event weekends. I would have loved to been in the Jaguar board meeting where somebody stood up with a straight face and suggested developing the I-Pace SUV into a race car—with its very own 20-car, I-Pace World Championship racing series. Yet here we are, at Silverstone with an I-Pace e Trophy race car. Jaguar made a three-year commitment to run the series alongside Formula E, and there will be 10 race weekends on the schedule for this season.

Jaguar will keep and maintain all 20 cars between events to ensure parity. It will also provide the crew and an engineer for each car/driver. The cost to run the series is around $600,000 per season, plus a $125,000 annual lease. A team can buy the car for $260,000, saving on extended lease costs. Crash damage incurs additional charges. This will essentially be an "arrive and drive" racing series.

The Jaguar race team worked with the FIA to set up I-Pace safety regulations. In the race car, a standard I-Pace battery pack is nestled inboard of the roll cage to better protect the pack from impacts. There are two isolator switches mounted in the center console, for separate battery shutdown in case of a crash. The race car uses the same 145-kW electric motors found in the street car; they produce the equivalent of 400 hp, driving all four wheels. The motors, along with the 90-kW battery pack, produce 500 amps of juice—you would not want a driver or emergency worker receiving a shock from that kind of power. To help with this, the I-Pace shows a green light front, rear, and on the center dash when there is no live power. If the car instead shows a red or blue light, there could be live electricity around the car. Emergency workers will carry specialized equipment to combat any crash-related issues that may involve electricity.

The interior reminds me of a GT4 race car. You see production switchgear alongside a modern electronic race dash, plus plenty of adjustment switches on the removable steering wheel. Weight distribution is 52/48R front/rear in the normal I-Pace, 48/52 in the race car. The latter weighs 4,320 pounds, a 450-pound reduction compared the street version. Easily replaceable carbon-fiber body panels are found front and rear, but most of the bodywork is the original aluminum. The new hood and front splitter better direct air for cooling the brakes and radiator, and create anti-lift. There is a minimal amount of downforce; if you add up all the aero bits, plus the 1.18-inch lower ride height, you get around 50 pounds of total downforce, which is less than a Honda Civic Type R. The upgraded (twice the capacity of stock) A/C system helps cool the battery pack and the electric motors.

The race and production I-Pace produce the same power; 0-to-60-mph for the race car takes about 4.5 seconds and top speed is 121 mph—similar numbers to the street I-Pace. Those are pedestrian figures for a race car, but I started racing in the mid '80s in a 50-hp Renault Alliance spec-series car and had a blast, as did the fans who followed that series. Also, there's never been a boring Mazda Miata race, even if just two cars are running, which has never happened. So I can get onboard with the I-Pace's output.

Sitting in the I-Pace eTrophy felt pretty much like any other race car. There are only two pedals; no use for a clutch. Note: to launch fast, no brake hold is needed because max power is produced immediately when you bury the "gas" pedal.

As I rolled the I-Pace racer down pit lane, all I heard was rattling anti-roll bars, solid suspension bushings, and anything else not welded together. I now know race brakes make a total racket when not drowned out by a race engine, something I never considered before in my entire driving career.

I had to resist the temptation to come in and ask the crew to check every nut and bolt on the car, because it sounded like at least 90 percent of them were ready to fall off. Once I got rolling, though, the can of ball bearings effect was less obvious due to my focus on going quickly.

The Stowe Circuit is quite short, with 11 corners, and several of them were actually chicanes made with cones. The Bosch ABS brakes (15.55-inch front/13.98 rear) allowed aggressive modulation. There is no stability control. The off-throttle regenerative braking can produce up to 0.4 g of deceleration. It's slightly adjustable and does play a part while trail braking.

The grip of the specially developed Michelin Pilot Sport tires feels equivalent to a PS4S street tire. The race tires are similar in size to the production I-Pace's 265/40R22 tires and have full tread depth, which avoids the need for rain tires. (Likewise, Formula E uses "all-weather" Michelin race tires.)

My cornering-speed limits were determined by how much I could rotate the I-Pace on entry. It behaves very much like most all-wheel drive cars on a track, quickly exhibiting understeer when you try to add power mid-corner. The more rotation I could carry into and through a corner, the better. You can adjust front to rear torque distribution, but for now the adjustment range only moves torque from 48-percent rear to 52-percent rear. I won't be surprised if the series' drivers quickly ask for more adjustment range.

The stiffer suspension setup versus the production I-Pace made controlling the rate of rotation on corner entry a challenge, but not impossible. Personally, I would add some compliance to the suspension if I actually raced one of these cars in the series. Softening up the suspension and antiroll bars would slow down body roll for corner entry and help the driver transition back to power. Anything you can do to increase the roll compliance of a heavy race car, especially one with limited mechanical grip, helps. I learned this long ago while racing street-based cars on regular street tires.

I thoroughly enjoyed my laps in Jaguar's I-Pace eTrophy race car. As an aside, as I walked away from the car I noticed its outside mirrors: It occurred to me they might last about three turns, of lap one, of practice one, of race weekend one. Keep an eye on that.

The eTrophy Championship races are short, scheduled to run just 25 minutes plus one lap. Google and YouTube metrics say younger audiences prefer shorter entertainment cycles, and Jaguar will focus on finding the correct marketing approach here. Another piece of the entertainment jigsaw will be the willingness of the series' drivers to race side by side "everywhere" on the tight concrete-lined tracks; nobody likes a permanent pace-car situation.

A world championship street-race series, with 20 equally powered, 4,300-pound Jaguar SUVs, should be something to see. It's fair to say brand differentiation is alive and well at Jaguar. I'm looking forward to the first race, and my hat's off to Jaguar for daring to try.

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