Having been a former race winner in the World Touring Car Championship with SEAT, Jordi Gene is certainly well-qualified for the role which he has been playing over the past year or so. As the chief test driver for the Spanish marque’s performance division, Cupra, Gene has been integral to the development of the ‘e-Racer’, one of the world’s first all-electric touring cars.
As such, the Spaniard is one of the best-placed drivers out there to provide insight into what the future of touring car competition may be like, with the much-publicised ETCR championship scheduled for 2020. So, in order to provide his perspective, Gene recently took part in a Q&A with SEAT themselves.
“Everything is very new and to understand it well you have to take a step back, not taking anything for granted regardless of how much experience you may have…”, Gene said. Indeed, due to the pioneering nature of this particular project, even a driver like himself (who has been racing professionally with SEAT since 2003) has had to come to terms with the vastly different characteristics of an electric-powered race car.
“There are things that are very shocking at the beginning” Gene explained, “for example, the ability to accelerate. It is brutal, like a Scalextric car, when you hit the button it goes off and disappears on the straights. In this car it is the same and the driver must be prepared for such a power”.
Interestingly, the veteran racer also noted that cooling and the temperature of the car would be “possibly one of the most difficult parts to manage”, which is somewhat dissimilar to conventional race cars.
He also went on to say that the e-Racer would require a “different driving strategy” to its petrol-powered counterparts: “Driving this car is more difficult in general. For example in cornering, when you arrive to the apex you have to brake a little more because you carry more weight. That’s where the work of the driver comes in, of the set-up that you have to finely tune for this weight… However, when the straight comes, it accelerates a lot, and what you have sacrificed applying more braking, it’s compensated.”
As well as getting to grips with the car’s handling characteristics, drivers of ETCR machines – like the Cupra e-Racer – will also have to come to terms with a new array of on-board technology: “There are many more tools than in a conventional car.”, began Gene. “You have different ways of regenerating energy and you have to optimise them all to get the greatest possible autonomy. In the race, you have to be very effective in this section to be able to reach the end of the race at a competitive level. All this, more or less, you can change from the steering wheel. You can ask that during braking, the car will charge the batteries more, or that it will only charge them when you lift the gas pedal without braking. You can manage the traction control of each wheel even separately.”
As well as ensuring that the car is performing optimally, drivers will also be tasked with ensuring that its pace is sustainable. Linking back to Gene’s earlier comments about cooling, drivers will have to monitor and adapt to their car’s temperature gauge far more so than they currently would do – at least, until this aspect of the car becomes more autonomously regulated.
Due to the variability of how these cars will perform between driving styles, races will most likely be decided by individual talent and strategy, rather than the performance characteristics of differing makes and models. Of course, a well-engineered car will always help, but Gene believes that this new era of race car technology will provide a fantastic spectacle for fans: “In reality, for a driver this [lap-by-lap variation in the nature of the cars] is a major challenge, much more than what it may seem from outside. It will be very interesting.”