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Motorsport’s Future: Low Emissions and High Tech

MIA EEMS Conference 2017 000 Delta Motorsport low res

MIA EEMS Conference 2017

The 2017 Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) Energy Efficient Motorsport Conference confirmed that motorsport is heading for a low emissions future, but that technology will also be a key component.

This can be seen in the all-electric Formula E series, which is gaining increasing support from car manufacturers and fans, and it has the potential to achieve further success by harnessing technology in the racing and also in the interaction with its audience.

The ongoing drive to lower emissions in motorsport, particularly via electrification, together with the adoption of cutting-edge technology, was a theme throughout the entire MIA Conference, and collaboration was seen as a key way for the UK to achieve both of these goals. An organisation that can play a key role in facilitating such collaboration is the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), and Director of Business Development, Garry Wilson, was present to explain how the APC can help.

The APC provides funding for collaborative projects (primarily between £5m to £40m) that develop technological solutions to help lower vehicle emissions. Any technology development company can apply for funding as long as it has a partner that offers a route to market. Motorsport companies can be excellent partners within a consortium, as they can develop innovative products quickly, and universities can provide expertise in the area of research and with specific technologies.

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If projects are at a stage that is too early for the APC, companies can access funding through Innovate UK, and Roland Meister, Head of Automotive, Aerospace and Autonomous Connected Vehicles was on hand to explain that Innovate UK is seeking projects that have a significant degree of risk (although Roland was keen to stress that the element of risk is in relation to the technology, not the consortium).

There are significant rewards for companies that take a collaborative approach. As Simon Dowson, Managing Director of Delta Motorsport explained, Delta started off life as a motorsport engineering company, but having developed its own electric E4 Coupe it has since become involved in increasing amounts of collaborative automotive R&D projects, which led to the company working in partnerships such as with Jaguar Land Rover on the Concept_e project. Interestingly, Simon, together with his business partner in Delta, Nick Carpenter, decided to diversify when they realised the opportunity to innovate in motorsport was reducing.

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The theme of technology becoming an essential component along with low emissions in motorsport was introduced by Prof. David Greenwood, Professor, Advanced Propulsion Systems: WMG, The University of Warwick, who opened the 2017 MIA Conference. Dave Greenwood identified six megatrends that motorsport needs to engage with, all of which related to technology. The subject of autonomous racing came up, with the audience reeling at the prospect of cars racing by themselves without drivers. However Dave’s view was that younger age groups, such as 17-25 year olds, are in favour of driverless racing cars – but that such a future for the sport would be combined with experiencing motorsport in a fully digital world, with immersive virtual reality technology. Motorsport could therefore offer interesting opportunities for tech companies to get involved, and to sponsor. Will the future be about crowd-sourced vehicles racing against cars from Apple and Google?

Dave was joined by two other panellists Thomas Laudenbach, Head of Electrics, Electronics and Energy Systems: Audi Sport and Simon Holloway, Commercial Director: RML Group. There was agreement that interactive technology had the potential to make motorsport relevant to a new generation of fans. There was also a consensus that the projections for the increasing numbers of electric vehicles from car makers meant that a huge number of batteries would have to be manufactured; when half of the UK’s cars are EVs, Europe would need 12 x Tesla Gigafactories. This obviously presents an opportunity for supply chain companies, even for smaller motorsport companies such as RML Group, who could potentially help with the development of batteries that will offer greater performance in motorsport – and also potentially in a commercial environment.

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It was acknowledged that there will be a decline in the internal combustion engine, and investment will be made into electric powertrains, driven by factors such as increasingly stringent air quality legislation. The subject of America was raised: will Donald Trump cause a problem by stamping his feet for fossil fuel-powered cars? The view was that there is a global legislative drive for low emissions, but perhaps more importantly, “the genie is out of the bottle”; the demand for EVs is being driven by people, not just legislation. If Trump goes back to digging for coal and manufacturing V8 engines in Detroit, America will be isolated. And individuals such as Tesla’s Elon Musk will continue to have a very different view to Trump on the subject of destroying the planet.

Back in the UK, a vision for the future of motorsport, particularly Formula 1, was summed up by Pat Symonds, Former Chief Technical Officer: Williams Martini Racing. Pat predicted that Formula 1 would gain more electrification, but in common with the other sessions in the conference, most of the changes would be in the area of technology. Fully immersive simulated virtual racing against real competitors might help motor racing regain entertainment as its main focus.

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The implementation of many of these ideas may first happen somewhere other than in Formula One. Mark Gemmell gave a presentation about the 2017 Electric GT Championship, and he even brought along a race-prepared Tesla Model S as a visual aid. Mark believes that the job of motorsport is to show what is happening in the car industry, and racing electric production cars on the track would do this. With live coverage being streamed from every car, the expectation is that 1,000 people will interact with the race series online for every one person at the circuit.

But the APC’s Garry Wilson had some of the last words, suggesting that one of the most immersive, interactive experiences of motorsport would not be Formula 1, or any other form of track racing, but rallying. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: motorsport isn’t immune from the rapid pace of change happening in the world outside – to survive it also needs to change.

Paul Clarke

Paul Clarke, Editor, Green Car Guide

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