In the heartland of England, a not much covered press conference took place about probably one of the most exciting racing series in the future. Here are some samples.
Transcribed at Hotel Inception, 27 Backofmybrain Alley, Thunderville, TH23 4FJ, Racingshire, England, United Kingdom on 27/04/2014
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you in this rather sunny - by British standards - afternoon for the announcement of Formula PowerBoost World Series.
The Formula PowerBoost World Series - or "FPB" as I shall refer to it from now on - is a new, global, top-level motor racing competition designed to do one, very important task at its core: raising awareness concerning the future of this planet by providing close-competition racing and a great show.
It is an open-wheel, single seater formula very much known from racing series like the Formula One World Championship, the IndyCar World Series and other, minor-league racing competitions. So we are not the only one on the market.
"Why do you think you are special?" you might ask quite rightly. The European, especially the British market is saturated with open-wheel racing. There are many top and entry level competitions nationally and internationally, why would we bother to come up with another one and hope it becoming successful?
The answer to that question is that we can bring things to the table other series don't have. And that is the right message for the future of all of us, raising the human spirit by the close competition of - presumably - top racing drivers we will be able to invite and provide and the show factor audiences will experience.
Again, you might say something like "Those are big, but rather general words, it is true for every competition." Let me break it down for you in four simple points:
1. Environmental Awareness
2. Economic Awareness
3. Close Competition
4. Spectacle for Audiences
These four points are tightly related, so to understand, let's start with two videos from our competitors:
The first video you saw was a test for Formula E, an all-electric single-seater racing series, using the latest technology available in motoring. The second video was a test run of a V12 petrol engine-powered Formula One Ferrari.
If I asked you which car's technology would you want to incorporate in your daily driver as of today and which one would you dream of driving for a fast lap or two - or at least seen driven hard, up-close, your answers would be very close to unanimous.
And that is because we, human beings, are a very much practical, yet daydreaming species. We want our lives to be simple, slick, economical, spend less time with things we must do , but at the same time we want to conquer heights. Electric cars are the sound of rational future, while the old petrol-burners are things of the past, yet we have idealize memories about them.
With FPB, we aim to aim both of these targets, we would like to keep the ambiguous nature of human spirit intact. Therefore, with FPB, we are devising a hybrid system of internal combustion engines and electric power.
We are strong believers of electric power being one crucial part of the future of the automobile, and we would like to use that power sensibly while keeping the things we grew up with, being tangible with days slipping away, while flying the flag for the future.
Raising awareness about the future of the planet is very important to us. Electric power in itself is clean. Creating and storing electric power is a challenge, and yet lacks a practical infrastructure to be used as an exclusive energy-source in cars. On the upside, it has zero emission of harmful gases. Unlike the internal combustion engine, which is noisy, gives out all sorts of fumes, but its energy source is available anywhere and everywhere.
Marrying the two concepts can bring out the best of both.
Of course, we are not the first ones to think about internal combustion-electric hybrid powerplants, we ae not even the first ones to use it in racing. Formula One has gone hybrid five years ago, the World Endurance Championship followed suit and made tremendous improvements to the concept.
How our system is any different? FPB provides a much cheaper, much more practical - and most of all - more flexible solution to the concept. That is where the rest of the three points - "Economic Awareness", "Close Competition" and "Spectacle for Audiences" - come in.
FPB is based on a plug-in hybrid concept. Plug-in hybrids are now very much the part of everyday traffic, but sparse in racing. To imagine a plug-in hybrid race car, let's take a Formula E car as a starting point.
A Formula E car is a full-on electric car with an electric motor driving the wheels, which is powered by electricity stored in batteries that are charged overnight. Electricity may or may not be harvested from regenerative braking, where the force of kinetic energy the cars have during motion can be turned into electric power under braking, which is used later to power the wheels for acceleration.
What we do with our plug-in hybrid concept, is that we take some of the batteries away and replace it with a fuel cell and an internal combustion engine. The engine is connected only to a generator, which feeds more electricity into the batteries.
Now, why do we take away from the batteries and stick an engine in there? Batteries are heavy. The more you have of them, the more power available you will have, but at the same time, your car gets even more heavier. The more batteries you put in your car, the more energy will be used from the batteries to move said batteries. So there needs to be a "sweet spot" where you have a decent range out of batteries, but you don't spoil the balance of the car where it becomes useless and impractical due to the size and weight of the battery package. Moreover - we are quite honest about this - harvesting and processing Lithium is not exactly the most environmentally friendly thing to do, but just with the right amount of it and the internal combustion engine, the drawbacks of the two can be eliminated.
Internal combustion engines work exceptionally economically at certain amount of revs. Therefore they make great generators for electric power plants.
We contracted an independent company to provide all the batteries, electric motors and kinetic energy recovery systems for all the cars, which - by the way - run a common chassis as well. This combination provides equality, thus close racing for a relatively low price, yet it is very much advertising the "good message".
This, however, does not make FPB a spec.-series. There are true crucial points where we let aspiring teams to modify or create parts. The first is certain parts of the bodywork, most notably the nose cone and the wing attached to it. We encourage designers to come up with their versions they think work the best, or teams with lesser capacity can purchase our stock parts, specifically designed for this car. There are other parts of the bodywork they can modify, as the section behind the rollhoop, all in the name of healthy engineering challenge and a greater distinction of cars, therefore a better show.
The other part we leave open is the engine choice as a generator. We left enough space in the back area of the car to house anything from a three-cylinder power plant to a V12 or a flat-8, turbocharged engine. Whatever their choice of power plant is, it will not affect the performance of the cars as the wheels are only powered by the electric motor and the differences in the weight of the internal combustion engines are equalised by ballast.
The internal combustion engine is used throughout the race. The race distance - measured at 40 minutes - is designed to make short, exciting races with the intentions to use wise tactics. The mandated battery package can hold just enough power to get through the distance at comfortable, installing lap-like speeds, while the internal combustion engine is idling, charging the batteries slightly. When in an overtake situation, the driver can use the "Overtake" button that we like to call "Reversed KERS" thus "SREK" - if you get my meaning -, because pushing the button the power plant engine fires up to high revs, providing the extra "juice" needed not to flatten the battery during the immense amount of energy draining an overtake could potentially cause.
The driver should be careful with this button, though, as we designed the fuel cell not to be frantic using the button too much, as the fuel provided can run out quickly - making the engine just a ballast in the car - such as the batteries can run flat, too, if not used enough. A pop-up valve in the exhaust pipe will help the best auditive experience.
We believe a set amount of fuel is enough, no need to further restrict on the engines, except that for simplicity and for the show we devised petrol engines only. We do encourage teams to bring power plants dear to their hearts from the past. May it be the Ferrari engine seen in the video above, the rotary power plants of the Mazda 787b Group C Le Mans cars, the turbocharged l5 engine of the Audi Quattro S1, or simply a muscle car engine from days before. We want diversity for FPB and make sure there will be diversity.
Yes, these engines make some fumes, but more importantly they make a lot of noise that people in the grand stands and in front of the TV like and more importantly they help to get the message across: these cars are after all still driven by electricity and electricity can be made sexy.
As I said: we want to make the human spirit intact. We don't want to force something on people. We want people to make the right choices by making the right choice attractive.
For the icing on the cake, we are planning an open-wheel series for now, but the package can be transplanted to other sort of chassis as well, thus we are planning a sportscar formula, too, along the same lines.
That's all for me now. Any questions?
All images used are of Creative Commons Licence
EDIT: Disclaimer: Before you start throwing used condoms at me, let me just say that I didn't raise the idea seriously, more like as a discussion panel how to incorporate "green" energy into racing even more. Because "You don't need it there" is no answer any more.