The long-awaited Tesla based Electric Production Car Series is finally nearing its launch with the first race planned for Vallelunga in October. Electric GT Holdings CEO and Founder Mark Gemmell chats to Rob Watts to shed more light on their ambitious plans for the championship.
Following its announcement in 2016, the EPCS has been delayed several times but the calendar for its inaugural season is expected to be confirmed shortly. The race-spec Tesla Model S P100D car that will be used has now passed the mandatory crash tests, and the championship has been officially sanctioned by the FIA which Mark explains was crucial for a number of reasons.
“The FIA approval was a great step forward, and since then things have really accelerated,” he said. “We’ve found that circuits are now seeing that this is a real championship because you need [FIA approval] to be able to race. We’re having conversations with circuits, and they’re all enthusiastic about what we’re doing.
Unlike Formula E, the ECPS will be the first fully electric series to run on traditional race tracks and is pitching itself as a festival of technology with racing at the centre. With many of world’s top car manufacturers investing in EV technology, Mark feels the addition of a new electric championship has been well received by many of motorsport’s top circuits.
“The future’s actually really bright for circuits, and it’s thanks to electric racing,” says Mark.
“Take the TESLA Roadster 2 with 1,200bhp; it’s an example of what’s coming, and the Rimac Concept Two is almost 2,000bhp – you know people who like speed are going to want these cars, and these aren’t the only manufacturers who are going to make cars like this.
“There’s nowhere on earth that you can test these cars to the limit, so of course you’ll have to go to a race circuit that is designed for that. It’s a no-brainer – electric cars are bringing forward a really exciting future, and circuits have a very buoyant future ahead because of that.”
With the first race pencilled in for October of this year, Mark explains how negotiations to finalise the calendar have progressed in recent months and revealed that the series is likely to visit several top circuits in season one.
“We’ve gone through several versions of our calendar; it’s taken longer than we’d expected but we’ve stuck in there because it’s a valuable process to go through,” says Mark. “The circuits have always been good at giving us dates, and virtually all are fine with the switch to electric; in fact, most if not all have had serious problems with noise abatement.
“The final calendar will kick off in Italy in October and Spain in November, and we’ll extend it through to 2019 to get all around Europe and maybe even outside of Europe if we can close those deals. So it should be not just a European, but a fully international series early on.
“We’ve had a good relationship with Vallelunga (an FIA sanctioned circuit just north of Rome), and my understanding is that [the first race] will be there. We’ve got our list of circuits, which should be including essentially all of the top venues around Europe. We’ve got active conversations with all of the big names, and they’re all enthusiastic to see electric racing.”
The weekend format will feature a three-heat qualifying session and two 37-mile races; one run during the day and a second race run at dusk. Mark outlines how the championship plans to keep fans engaged through a series of support events and a compact one-day schedule.
“Formula E has set a very good standard, and the one-day event is a winning formula,” says Mark. “Our intention is to have several support activities, three or four at least, and always on electric energy and innovation.
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into developing our eSports offering. I’m of the opinion that virtual racing should be every bit as challenging and exciting as the real race, and that means the simulators have to recreate the sensation of driving the vehicle.
“That comes from using VR, so you’re fully immersed, but in addition, we’ve got seats that simulate g-force up to 1.5g. We’re making plans to have that fully incorporated into the day’s events so they can have a chance to try it themselves without the risking of crashing a half million pound car.”
With Jaguar’s new I-PACE trophy scheduled for a late 2018 launch, Mark has no concerns about the two championships going head-to-head.
“All new and interesting motorsport is going to be electric, so the I-PACE is a very welcome addition,” says Mark. “It’s an excellent vehicle, well built and at a good price point. To see it on track is fantastic because that’s where electric cars get their credibility.
“I would prefer to see the I-PACE on a permanent circuit though, but I think it’s very good that they are adding to the Formula E experience because Formula E’s success is our success.”
Unique to the series, the EPCS will draw upon a pool of drivers, referred to as its ‘Drivers’ Club’, that have each been selected for their ‘experience, outstanding achievement and passion’.
Current ELMS outfit SPV Racing is the first team to make a “multi-year” commitment to the championship, with Finnish driver Emma Kimiläinen, one of six female drivers to have signed up, expected to be confirmed as the team’s first official race driver.
“There’s no shortage of drivers; many hundreds have contacted us,” says Mark. Just a few of the well-known names to have signed up include Stefan Wilson, Tom Coronel, Oliver Webb, Alex Premat and Alice Powell.
“There’s a lot of appreciation for the drivers we have in the drivers’ club because they are drivers with a high level of skill and accomplishment, and secondly they have been willing to join us early on recognising that there’s a future in this.
“We’ll go to lengths to bring some very high-quality drivers to the race series,” Mark adds.
One such driver who has sampled the Tesla Model S car is none other than reigning Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi. Although the Brazilian has no plans to switch championships any time soon, di Grassi was impressed enough to make a bet with the series founder.
“He was completing 190 kmh on one of the straights just before a corner, and I said “I bet from a standing start you could never get that’, and he said ‘I think I could do even better’,” Mark explains.
“It was €1,000 we bet on this. [From a standing start] he reached 210 kmh on the pit straight in Vallelunga. He was obviously enjoying himself and showing a lot more of the car than we would have been able to. It was quite something.”
And the bet? “I’m a man of my word,” says Mark.
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