► A brief taste of the Jaguar i-Pace eTrophy
► Driven at 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed
► Star of Jaguar’s all-electric global race series
Well, this is odd. I’ve just pushed the accelerator pedal in the Jaguar i-Pace eTrophy as far as it will go, my internal organs have moved backwards and the horizon is on its way to meet us, pronto.
The sensation is similar to putting your foot down in a very senior supercar – same weird stretchy gravity motion as longitudinal G-forces do their thing – but the disconcerting thing is, there’s no noise. Stray stones pinging against the wheelarches, fat tyres buzzing on tarmac, building wind rush – but other than that, silence. Without the crescendo of an engine note to square with the speed, you feel oddly disconnected, somehow detached from space and time. That, and you’re sat quite high up.
Rewind: it’s the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed, and Jaguar has brought its iPace eTrophy race car to demo. CAR is one of the lucky folk getting to do the demo-ing.
What is the Jaguar i-Pace eTrophy?
The eTrophy is part international racing series, part global marketing platform for the i-Pace road car. At each Formula E championship round a swarm of electric Jaguar race cars do battle in the supporting i-Pace eTrophy series. Each car is identical, and on the tight city street circuits racing is close and fierce, with paint traded as frequently as positions.
The car Jaguar Racing is running at Goodwood is one of its eTrophy development cars. Its garage awning is a silent partner within the Formula 1 paddock. First clue that this is not an ordinary racing car is in the safety briefing: electric racing cars bring with them a host of new potential safety issues to consider, such as the risk of electrocution to a marshal touching a live car in the event of an accident.
The i-Pace uses a warning light system, visible in the car’s windscreen for the benefit of driver, team and marshals: green means the car’s safe, a red light – or no light at all – means it shouldn’t be touched. The chance of seeing a light any other colour than green is tiny, but my eyes can’t help flickering to the display just to be sure throughout my time in the car.
Who builds the i-Pace eTrophy?
The eTrophy race cars are built by Jaguar Land Rover’s SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) department alongside high-performance road cars such as the Range Rover Velar SVA Dynamic.
They wear composite body panels but are built around production shells (with the addition of a beefy rollcage by M Sport), and use the production car’s battery and brace of motors (one front, one rear) for a total output in the region of 395bhp and 513lb ft.
What’s it like inside?
Very much a racing car: bare aluminium shell, carbonfibre door inners, racing pedal box, button-festooned steering wheel. It feels like a touring car with a high hip point. The carbon centre console includes an air-con button but it’s to cool the battery, not the driver. It also features the regular D, N, R and P switches from the production car. Setting off is no more complex than pressing the starter button, selecting D and treading the accelerator pedal.
Surreally, I’m following Nick Heidfeld (who’s only just had his 20-year-standing hill record beaten by VW’s ID R) to the startline queue in his Formula E car. On the way from the assembly area he flicks it left and right and throws it into slides to warm its tyres, its motor whirring like a rabid Tamiya.
Edging closer to the startline we’re rolling past F1 cars lining up for their runs, including the goosebump-kindling sight of Emerson Fittipaldi in the JPS-liveried Lotus 72 he originally raced to the world championship crown, Classic Team Lotus chief Clive Chapman leaning on its rear wing. Grand Prix engines from every era are being coaxed into ear-splitting life by teams of harried-looking mechanics, some of the cars refusing to fire until they’re push-started.
It feels almost like cheating to push D on the i-Pace’s console and swoosh silently forwards in the queue. Like all racing machines, however, the team still have a host of data to keep an eye on, and even in an electric race car it pays to keep an eye on the temperature gauge – in this case for the battery, to ensure it’s at its optimum temperature for performance.
How do you get the i-Pace eTrophy off the line?
We’ve reached the startline, right foot primed and tensed against the accelerator pedal. You don’t hold the i-Pace on the brake to get a flying start – it’s a pure reflex test, a case of kicking the accelerator from zero to the floor as fast as your foot can move. The startline marshal’s hand waves us away, all four tyres scrabble momentarily before finding purchase and the i-Pace rockets forward. The team go over the data later and discover 0-62mph came and went in 4.3sec, but it felt far faster.
Partly because there are no auditory reference points; the first corner is rushing up fast and it’s curious not to hear the sound of an engine’s revs dip as my left foot hits the brake pedal. And yet you can hear other sounds, even through a full face helmet; grit in the arches, air rushing past, tyres buzzing against the tarmac. The front tyres bite keenly and the i-Pace turns positively into the first corner. Although there’s not a huge amount of feel through the power steering you quickly trust the car and get a feel for its grip levels, encouraging you to carry more speed through turn two.
Like the Formula E series it supports, the eTrophy runs on treaded tyres and the movement in their blocks makes it easier to get a feel for the car’s limits. There’s no traction control but there is ABS, controlled via one of the steering wheel's many dials. The others control the torque split of the motors, from 50:50 to a more rear-biased setting (some drivers in the series use the 50:50 setting off the line; others stick with the rear-biased setting to account for the weight of the car transferring rearwards.) and the level of energy-recuperating regenerative braking.
That’s set to max here, and unlike road-going EVs’ one-pedal-style driving modes where backing off the accelerator causes instant deceleration, the race car’s regen is triggered only when the brake pedal is pressed – to stop any instability in fast corners, where a confidence lift might cause the car’s weight to transfer onto its nose and unbalance it. Hitting the brakes for the biggest stop on the course, into the infamous Molecomb left-hander, the brake feel is very natural and the i-Pace stops extremely well.
On the power again, whooshing past the flint wall and into the long, unsighted top corners the i-Pace’s SUV-style driving position feels unusual; you’re buried low in the car, but also comparatively high up by racing car standards and it takes a moment to get your bearings from your vantage point.
You feel at home in the i-Pace quickly, however. It’s an inherently friendly car, and good fun in the corners too.
At the top of the hill, we pull to a halt behind an ex-Graham Hill Lotus 49 and Esteban Ocon and Rubens Barrichello stand in front of the i-Pace’s windscreen, comparing notes on Brackley F1 cars past and present.
That oh-my-word-what-on-earth-am-I-doing-here feeling that never quite goes away at Goodwood returns with full force.
The i-Pace has hit with some force, too. Its instant-punch acceleration is stirring, and its deceleration the same – it brakes at a rate a two-tonne car really shouldn’t be capable of.
Although it’s the petrol-fuelled classic F1 cars have brought the noise and stirred emotions here, lessons learned in the i-Pace race programme are setting the template for the electric racers that will take up their mantle in the future. Based on a short, sharp shot up the hill in the eTrophy, it’s good to know that they’ll still be fast, fun and dramatic.