Porsche finally debuts in the arena of electric racers

Porsche returns to single-seater racing after a +30-year hiatus this year as it embarks on a new adventure in Formula E, the world’s top EV racing series. The factory-backed Tag Heuer Porsche Formula E team will field a pair of Porsche 99X Electric cars for Messrs Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer, both formerly part of the company’s LMP1 program. Expect to see this 335-horsepower red, white, and black beast battle at the sharp end of the field in the 2019-2020 season that’ll kick-off later this year.

Porsche halted its involvement in the FIA World Endurance Championship, where it raced in the top-flight LMP1 class with a pair of hybridized 1,000-horsepower prototypes, to race in Formula E. The German automaker will thus move forward in its quest towards electrification by competing in the first all-electric racing series in the world with a car powered by a 900-volt battery, just like the 2021 Taycan sedan. But you’d rather see Batman ride in this low-flying spacecraft than the Taycan and that’s why Porsche hopes to garner a new, younger, and tech-savvy crowd through its participation in the eco-friendly championship.

Exterior

  • Porsche will debut in the Gen. II era
  • Gen. II car much more aggressive than the Gen. I design
  • Body kit is identical for all 12 teams involved
  • No rear wing as car relies on underbody downforce
  • Huge diffuser
  • Low, sweeping nose
  • Covered front and rear wheels for reduced drag
  • Halo adopted on Gen. II cars for added safety
  • Aero package allows for proper wheel-to-wheel racing
2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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Formula E, sometimes referred to as the ’electric Formula 1’, is the first and only 100% electric championship for single-seater race cars. The idea behind a series that would run in the heart of the world’s biggest capitals on temporary city tracks belongs to FIA president Jean Todt but it has been promoted since the series’ inception by Alejandro Agag. Initially echoing F1, Formula E was supposed to be a multi-chassis championship wherein a number of constructors would join to compete head-to-head.

However, for the opening season, it was decided by Agag together with the FIA that a single manufacturer should provide the running gear, while the battery and the chassis should also be built by unique entities, making Formula E a spec series.

The first-generation car known as the Spark-Renault SRT 01E was built by Spark who assembled the Renault-sourced drivetrain (featuring McLaren Electronic Systems electric motors and a Williams Advanced Technologies battery pack). The chassis was designed by Dallara of Italy. From season number two onwards, the teams were allowed to develop their own bespoke electric motors, suspension components, and transmissions, but the battery pack remained spec. With that 440-pound 28-kWh battery in place, the cars made no more than 200 kW or 268 horsepower in qualifying mode or when the ’Fan Boost’ was on.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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The second-generation car debuted in the 2018-2019 season, the fifth season in the history of Formula E. Designed from the ground up to rely more on the underbody to create downforce, rather than wings like a traditional race car, the Spark SRT05e - as the second-gen car is known due to it being assembled by Spark - now sports a bigger battery. The shift was made to achieve the series’ goal of moving away from mid-race pit stops. During those stops, drivers swap cars because a fully charged gen-one battery didn’t last an entire Formula E race. To put it into context, an FE race can be no longer than 62 miles (or 45 minutes plus one extra lap) while an F1 Grand Prix must be at least 189.5 miles in length.

Porsche will make its official debut in the sixth season of Formula E, ready to do battle with some of its key rivals in the luxury car market such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi.

With all the cars looking identical, it’s the job of the livery to set them apart and Porsche’s gone the way of its by-now traditional red, white, and black color combo arranged in such a way that, from a bird’s eye view, it creates the contour of the Porsche crest around the cockpit area of the car.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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In the front, the Porsche 99X Electric looks aggressive due to the lower and wider nose. Gen-one cars were fitted with a tall and straight nose while the latest iteration sports a plunging nose that is connected to the front wing. The wing itself is in-unit with the wheel covers. As the wheel area is where a lot of dirty air is created, the addition of wheel covers sees gen-two cars follow one another more easily than before. On top of that, because the covers reduce drag, the wing is simple with only one major, carbon fiber dive plane on either side, bolted to the side of the wheel covers (or wheel arches if you will).

The step-down front wing essentially rises up in the middle where it connects with the nose cone and plunges down towards the corners of the front fascia.

The whole nose of the Porsche and its front fenders are white, covered with the factory-backed team’s main sponsors. Another thing you see when viewing the car from the front is the front suspension with its carbon-fiber control arms.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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Viewing a gen-two FE car from its side allows you to marvel at the intricacy of its lines. Behind the front wheels, the fenders feature F1-esque barge boards that extend all the way back to the point that it almost meets with the widened floor. The floor widens aft of the front bulkhead, around the area of the side pods that take in air to cool the components hidden by the rear bodywork. Likewise, the top bodywork covering the rounded side pods also widens around the middle of the car. These clean, nearly flat surfaces direct air towards the back where you’ll find the innovative twin wing setup.

The traditional two-tier wing of the first Formula E car has been discarded and, in its place, there are two winglets positioned at an angle that are bolted to the car’s narrowing backbone. The winglets extend outwards and connect with the rear wheel covers that only allow the back part of the rear wheels to be exposed. You can say, then, that the 2018 Formula E car is, by and large, a closed-wheel single-seater.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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It's all been done in an effort to reduce the importance of aerodynamic downforce or, in other words, the downforce created by wings, winglets, dive planes and other aerodynamic elements added to the bodywork.

Much of the downforce is created via the flat underbelly of the car that ends in the back with a massive protruding diffuser that’s much taller than ever before, going up on either side of the rain light that’s at the end of the barrel-like backbone.

The sci-fi aesthetics of the car are completed by the introduction of the halo that is connected to the bodywork in front of the driver and the roll hoop behind his head. This three-legged element was pioneered by the F1 World Championship and has since been adopted across the board in single-seater racing. The wheels are still big with a diameter of 18 inches and are hugged by bespoke all-weather Michelin rubber that’s been engineered to last a whole race.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer exterior dimensions
Length 5,160 mm
Width 1,770 mm
Height 1,050 mm
Wheelbase 3,100 mm
Ground clearance 75 mm max

Interior

  • Single-seater
  • Driver is almost completely surrounded by bodywork
  • Hump behind his head protects him in case of roll-over crash
  • Halo also in place for driver safety
  • Steering wheel is multi-functional
  • Driver is cradled in his own bespoke seat mold like in F1
  • Fan boost can be activated via steering wheel
  • Not as tight as F1 cockpit
  • Covered wheels make for different driving impression
2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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The cockpit of the Porsche 99X Electric is identical to that of any other FE car, although each steering wheel can be customizable, just like in Formula 1. The wheel features a rectangular digital screen with a variety of menus that you can toggle through. There are also a multitude of buttons and knobs on the wheel, but those you’ll most often see drivers press during the race are the ones for team radio communication and the one for the ’Attack Mode’. The ’Attack Mode’ is FE’s version of the DRS.

In Formula 1, the DRS is a system that can be activated by the driver in a number of key areas around each track, namely on the straights.

While within the confines of these DRS areas, and if a driver is within one second of the driver in front/behind him, he can deploy the DRS which, in turn, flattens an element of the rear wing to make the car more slippery and, thus, faster. In FE, with so little dependency on aerodynamic downforce, the ’Attack Mode’ doesn’t change the angle of any wing. Instead, it gives the driver a good ol’ power boost, up from the usual 267 horsepower to 315 horsepower.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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There is one additional type of boost that the driver can use during the race and this one unlocks the full 335 horsepower of the electric motor. It’s called the ’Fan Boost’ and it can be utilized a number of times anywhere on the track. The catch is that the fans decide, via a poll organized on the series’ website, who gets the ’Fan Boost’ before each race. The system has been at the core of some heated debates after it was discovered that thousands of fake Chinese ’fan’ accounts would vote in droves for the drivers of one of the teams on the grid. But the system has been fiddled with since then and it’ll be part of the 2019-2020 season, too.

Viewing a race from the onboard camera of a Formula E car delivers a serious adrenaline punch for whoever's watching, despite the fact that the cars aren't as fast as some gas-guzzling F2 or F1 machines.

The allure of the FE cars stems from the fact that they have to thread their way through narrow city circuits organized on closed-off sections of otherwise public bits of road. This means that you’re getting to watch racing on some pretty bumpy surfaces and cars often get loose, owing in part to the usage of all-weather tires instead of the usual racing slicks.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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Jaguar driver Mitch Evans reckons that gen-two cars are "somewhere between a prototype and single-seater," in terms of driving characteristics. He also said that "it’s a different beast, it’s faster," compared to the other car. Audi’s Daniel Abt echoed his rival’s thoughts adding that "when you’re driving between other cars you almost feel like you’re in a science fiction movie." Porsche’s Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer have driven single-seaters in the past (Lotterer in Formula 1 and Japan’s Super Formula among others while Jani was a star of the A1 GP series) but driving the electric Dallara-designed car is different, not least because you’re looking ahead at the covered wheels.

Drivetrain

  • Standardized chassis and battery package
  • Rest of drivetrain bespoke, developed by each manufacturer
  • The ‘Porsche E-Performance Powertrain’ gives the 99X its punch
  • 54 kWh, 900-volt battery lasts an entire race now
  • 335 horsepower in qualy mode and with ’Fan Boost’ on
  • 315 horsepower in ’Attack Mode’ during the race
  • 267 horsepower during the race otherwise
  • 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds, top speed of 174 mph
2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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In the first four seasons of Formula E, the racing’s been exceptionally close and exciting. This was the case because the car’s core components were shared between all the teams and, on top of that, the drivers were (for the most part) seasoned professionals. Now, with the shift to gen-two cars, the excitement levels have gone up a few increments along with the speeds produced by the cars. With tracks remaining largely unchanged (read ’perilously narrow’), contacts and incidents are almost inevitable.

This is why the Porsche, as well as all of the other FE cars, feature carbon-fiber suspension arms that are built to withstand the rough surfaces of Rome, Paris or New York where races take place.

In the inaugural season, suspension failures were commonplace as the cars would crumple going through the left-right chicanes with their high curbs. Since then, Dallara, Spark, and the teams have worked tirelessly to make the cars as tough as possible.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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Another issue of the gen-one car was its inability to bring the carbon-fiber brakes into temperature - also due to the low performance levels of the first car. Now, brake-by-wire has been adapted in the back as well to allow for better brake control and also to ease the driver’s job of recharging the battery (under braking, the electric motors work like generators to recharge the battery).

That battery stores 95% more energy than before while only being 20% heavier. In numbers, this translates to an increase from 320 pounds to 385 pounds for the battery alone with the capacity jumping from 28 kWh to 54 kWh (voltage is also up from 700 to 900 volts). The downside is that the car’s still heavy. The gen-one FE single-seater tipped the scales at 1,957 pounds, significantly more than originally projected by the organizers. Now, the minimum weight was set at an even heftier 1,984 pounds so you can imagine how beefy the suspension must be now to cope with the extra forces involved when driving the car at speed. To put it into perspective, the lightest production car currently for sale in America is the 2,018-pound Mitsubishi Mirage.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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But the Mirage's paltry 1.2-liter engine is thrown back to the dark ages by the 335 horsepower (in qualy mode/'Fan Boost' mode) electric motor that powers the Porsche 99X Electric.

Even with all that weight, the Porsche accelerates from naught to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, 0.2 seconds faster than a gen-one car and approximately a day and a half faster than the Mirage. Top speed surpasses 170 mph while the old cars would probably reach 140 mph downhill. Having said that, it’s worth pointing out that the original reports spoke of a top speed in excess of 186 mph but this proved to be just wishful thinking on the organizers’ part. The stopping power needed to get the Porsche through the twisty street circuits comes from Brembo with the single-gear transmission being developed by Porsche in-house. Steering is by rack-and-pinion.

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer specifications
Battery Lithium-ion, capacity of 54 kWh
Motor up to 250 kW (335 horsepower) in ’Fan Boost’/Qualy mode and 235 kW (315 horsepower) in the race in ’Attack Mode’. Otherwise, in the race, just 200 kW (267 horsepower) are available
Gearbox Single-gear developed by each manufacturer
Suspension Carbon fiber torsion bars w/ coil springs and dampers, developed by each manufacturer
Steering rack-and-pinion
Brakes brake-by-wire with carbon-fiber Brembo discs all around, Michelin all-weather tires wrapped around 18-inch forged rims
Weight Minimum of 1,984 pounds with driver
Performance 0-60 mph 2.8 seconds
Top speed 174 mph

Final Thoughts

2020 Porsche 99X Formula E Electric Racer
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The addition of both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz to the freight will most definitely further increase the competitive level of Formula E, already a championship known for its fierce battles and on-track rivalries. Porsche comes to the championship after shelving its ultra-successful LMP1 program that has yielded back-to-back World Endurance Manufacturer’s and Driver’s crowns as well as a trifecta of victories (2015-2017) in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

As such, Porsche is expected to perform straight out of the box but this won’t be easy given the depth of talent and expertise in the field. Porsche, however, isn’t a newbie in this arena, banking on its four years of running hybridized prototypes in sports car endurance racing when developing the drivetrain of its FE challenger, the 99X Electric. And, anyway, with racing being a key part of Porsche’s DNA, we’d be surprised if Porsche didn’t rise to the challenge and become a contender during its first season - Lotterer and Jani surely have the speed to be at the sharp end of the field if the car’s good enough.

  • Leave it
    • The electric drivetrain is quite loud but the sound is an acquired taste
    • Some may dislike the fact that these aren’t open-wheelers
    • Porsche will only make its debut this season, so they may not be at the top right away

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