Pure-electric Porsche bags Formula E podium. Porsche’s 99X Electric comes second in its very first race.
A new era for Porsche in pure-electric motorsport has begun. The works TAG Heuer Porsche team has taken part in its first Formula E race, the Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia. Works driver André Lotterer brought the number 36 Porsche 99X Electric home in second place in the inaugural race of the 2019-2020 Formula E series.
This new form of motorsport won’t just be novel to long-time Porsche racing fans thanks to the pure-electric propulsion of the 99X. The format of the competition will also take some getting used to. For instance, Lotterer made good use of Formula E’s so-called Attack Mode to move from seventh on the grid to his eventual second place finish.
Attack Mode involves the driver moving off the racing line through a series of virtual timing gates, following which a higher power engine mode is unlocked, bestowing the car with an additional 35kW for a few laps. The car’s Halo driver protection lights up to indicate Attack Mode has been enabled.
The location of the Attack Mode timing loop and the duration for which drivers can use Attack Mode varies by race and the specifics are only revealed an hour before the race. The idea is that the short notice will have competing teams conjuring up contrasting Attack Mode strategies and in turn lead to unexpected on-track action.
Another similar measure involves Formula E Fanboost, which saw fans vote Lotterer into the top five prior to the race. Drivers that qualify for the top five in the Fanboost receive a 20kW boost that can be deployed for five seconds during the second half of the race in an attempt to increase viewer engagement.
In the second instalment of the dualrace weekend, Lotterer crossed the finish line in sixth place on the 2.494-kilometre circuit near the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. He finished just over three seconds behind BMW-driving race winner Alexander Sims. However, Lotterer then received a drive-through penalty for overtaking at the start of a safety car period. Lotterer failed to spot the yellow flags as he passed another car that was experiencing technical issues. The net result was demotion to 14th overall. Lotterer’s team-mate Neel Jani placed 17th and 13th in the two races.
With two races out of 14 now complete, Lotterer is sixth in the drivers’ championship with 18 points. The TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team is also in sixth place in the team standings. The third race of the season is scheduled to take place on 18 January in Santiago de Chile.
All Formula E teams use the same second-generation chassis, which was introduced for the 2018 to 2019 season. The teams also use the same battery, a 54kWh pack made by McLaren Applied Technologies. The series also stipulates a weight of 900kg and a limited top speed of 280kph or 174mph. Power is relatively modest, clocking in around 335hp in the highest of the boost modes. The cars also run on treaded road-spec Michelin Pilot Sport tyres rather than slicks. Much of this reflects the fact that the series is run on very tight street circuits in 12 cities around the world.
Where participating manufacturers get to make a difference involves the powertrain, which is bespoke. Porsche has dubbed its take on a Formula E motor the E-Performance Powertrain. Porsche says it levies lessons learned from the electric drive system featured in Porsche's successful 919 Hybrid LMP1 race car, including an 800-volt electrical system. The latter is something also seen in Porsche’s first pure-electric road car, the Taycan.
Another area of technology transfer between race and road cars is the use of a permanent synchronous motor, an option selected for both the 99X Electric Formula E racer and the road-going Taycan. After the Diriyah E-Prix, the next race is the Santiago ePrix in Chile on January 18th. The series finishes with another double header in London on the 25th and 26th July.
Love Formula E or hate Formula E, Porsche has proved it’s going to be a contender from the off, with a podium place in the first round of the 2019/2020 season. Top right: It’s certainly not F1. There is some discernible body roll on an FE car, the tyres are road going Michelins and maximum power output is a meagre 335bhp. Right: Porsche Works driver, Andre Lotterer.