All 40 cars in the world’s first all-electric racing circuit run a standardized powertrain, but the uniformity ends in the 2015/2016 season when each carbon fiber/aluminum monocoque chassis FIA Formula E racecar can be fitted with a unique electric powertrain.
“We are in the process of developing an electric motor and a new transmission in the defined specification that FIA came up with,” said Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Gutzmer, Deputy CEO and Chief Technology Officer for Schaeffler AG.
Gutzmer and Schaeffler’s CTO for the Americas, Jeff Hemphill, sat down with Automotive Engineering prior to Formula E’s March 14 street race in Miami, the first U.S. stop in the 2014/2015 inaugural season of all-electric racing in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
As Team ABT Sportsline’s exclusive technology partner, Schaeffler is developing a novel power unit to replace the McLaren Applied Technologies powertrain. “We are now starting to get parts in for the prototype model,” said Gutzmer.
Schaeffler technical specialists are leveraging their extensive application development know-how together with the ABT race team and other technology experts to develop jointly a powertrain for Team ABT Sportsline. Said Hemphill, “One of our strengths in the automotive arena is systems engineering, and we’ll apply that systems approach to this development task.”
Each Formula E racecar in the 2014/2015 season uses a 57-lb (26-kg) motor to accelerate the single-seat car from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 3 seconds. The motor mates to a Hewland Engineering five-speed paddle shift sequential gearbox.
Audi Sport ABT driver Daniel Abt told Automotive Engineering that the electric racecar’s instant torque means “whenever you hit the throttle, it just goes. There is no delay. And there’s a lot less noise than if you had a screaming V8 engine behind your back.”
Virtually no technical details about the under-development powertrain are being publicized. “I hesitate to talk too much. There are seven competitors producing electric motors for next season, so it’s getting very interesting,” said Gutzmer.
Jacky Eeckelaert said the next race season is all about increasing the powertrain efficiency. “And the whole package will be lighter and at a lower center of gravity,” Eeckelaert, race engineer for ABT team driver Lucas Di Grassi, told Automotive Engineering.
While Schaeffler has supplied bearing components and alternator overrun systems for baja, endurance, and touring series cars powered by internal-combustion engines, developing an electric racecar powertrain is new territory. Said Gutzmer, “This is the first time that Schaeffler will be providing a functional, complete unit.”
One desirable for the Schaeffler powertrain is improved cooling efficiency.
Team owner Hans-Jurgen Abt spoke with Automotive Engineering while a crew member put dry ice inside the air intake ports for the battery cooling system and the engine cooling system.
“The dry ice can lower the temperature about 25°C. We need to pull the temperature down because then you can increase the power. In the race you have only the cooling from the air, and it doesn’t help if you have not the right temperature to start,” Abt said prior to the 39-lap, 1.34-mi (2.16-km) Miami race.
Developing an electric powertrain for a racing application will mean challenges and victories.
“You have to work with suppliers on different materials; that’s a challenge. You have to have a very fast loop of re-engineering if re-engineering is necessary,” Gutzmer said, referencing some of the challenges. “But the knowledge that we gain during this process will be fruitful for future developments.”