Embarking on a new age
© Airspeeder
October 2020

Embarking on a new age

The world is in a state of technological change it has never seen before and this is also true for motorsport. How can the high-speed and high-tech racing categories transform themselves and concurrently take part in shaping the transformation of mobility?

Race driver Lucas di Grassi, who is regarded as a pioneer in the field of forward-thinking technologies and competes in the Formula E electric racing series for the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team, is perfectly clear about it: “Motorsport has to adapt to what’s relevant to industry or else the large financial investments will disappear.” Timo Bernhard, a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans plus a World Endurance champion in the Hybrid-Porsche together with Schaeffler, regards motorsport as being able to fill the role of a laboratory also with prospects for the future: “Technical innovations need an environment in which they can be fully tested and motorsport provides the ideal competitive conditions for this.” That’s exactly why Bernhard with his KÜS Team75 Bernhard is fielding a Porsche GT3 R using Schaeffler Paravan’s Space Drive drive-by-wire technology. In this sports car, the mechanical connection between the steering unit and the steering transmission is replaced by digital technology (see infobox below).

E will be followed by H. And by what else?

Motorsport has always been the nucleus and test bed for innovations. Should it lose this dual role, it will lose relevance to automakers and industry, which might have far-reaching consequences because, without money from industry, top-class motorsport can hardly be financed. The International Automobile Federation (FIA) is well aware of this, too, and therefore willingly paving the way for forward-thinking technologies into professional racing. For instance, the electrification of motorsport, jump-started by Formula E, is picking up more and more momentum. Even youngsters in karting are already using electric power. In Germany, the ADAC motoring association together with carmaker Opel are organizing an Electric Rally Cup for young talents. Following Formula One, the World Rally Championship will begin to be partially electrified using hybrid powertrains in 2022 – with know-how from Schaeffler (see infobox).

The passion for racing and adrenaline will always remain, even if motorsport will cover a far wider spectrum in the future. Traditional racing, Formula E, Roborace or drone races – all of these types of racing will have their fan base and coexist

Lucas di Grassi

Going forward, other powertrain concepts are going to play a role as well. The organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans are planning to launch a racing category for hydrogen-powered cars. Interest in the technology is huge: Seven automobile manufacturers and suppliers are involved in developing the regulations. “Over the decades, the laboratory that motorsport provides has driven forward the development of technology and safety that has a direct benefit to all of us,” says FIA President Jean Todt. “… and the inclusion of a class for hydrogen technology … is the next, important step on the road to a cleaner and sustainable future.”

Embarking on a new age
Alternative powertrain trend: hydrogen as an energy source for endurance racing© ACO

But motorsport is providing new impetus not only to the powertrain side and to other classic realms of mobility. As an innovation platform, it’s able to occupy other globally relevant forward-thinking trends. So-called Roboracing with autonomous race cars is an ideal playground for developments in the areas of digitalization and automation. The partial automation of classic racing series is conceivable as well. For instance, future race cars might be driven by means of automation technology during safety car periods or pit stops. Tire changes and refueling using robots are conceivable as well. The urbanization of our planet and the concurrent development of micromobility as a vehicle class is addressed by the planned racing series for e-scooters with a speed of up to 100 km/h (62 mph). Like in Roboracing, Lucas di Grassi is one of the driving forces here. For the trendy topic of vertical mobility with a market volume of 75 billion dollars in 2035 anticipated by Porsche Consulting, another motorsport equivalent is on the starting grid: drone races with crewed multicopters. The electric racers of the airways are called Airspeeders. Airbus has caught the race fever bug as well. The aircraft manufacturer is involved in Air Race E, a competition for electric propeller aircraft. The experiences gathered here are intended to help optimize range, automation and costs of electric aircraft in order to make this form of interurban transportation accessible to a broader clientele.

In terms of lightweight design, motorsport has traditionally been a pioneer for production vehicles as well, initially using aluminum, followed by carbon fiber reinforced plastics. The latest trend in race car construction is biofiber materials, which, going forward, are supposed to not only reduce the weight of production cars but to also enhance sustainability aspects. Motorsport also plans to become an accelerator of innovative production methods, spearheaded by 3D printing. This is another technology intended to see further trimming toward the production side of the house due to its use in motorsport.

Embarking on a new age
Urbanization trend: races with e-scooters at speeds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph)© eSC
Diversity wins

“Motorsport has so many disciplines with diverse challenges that can be superbly used to optimize technologies,” Bernhard says. The horsepower pro can only understand the sentiments of conservative motorsport fans complaining about driving skills increasingly losing importance in the technology arms race to a limited extent. He feels that the competition among technologies is part of modern motorsport and no less exciting. Even so, the pro emphasizes that motorsport’s justified existence goes far beyond just serving as a technology incubator: “It’s also justified because people around the world from all walks of life and from all age groups have chosen motorsport as their sport, their hobby and their passion. In my view, this is a crucial factor that continues to give major social relevance to motorsport.” Bernhard refuses to offer a prediction of whether racers in 30 or more years’ time are going to battle it out in cars gliding on magnetic fields or in pod racers such as those in the Star Wars movies: “Actually, such a prediction is impossible to make because technology development progresses far too rapidly.” Not least thanks to motorsport …

Schaeffler: Toward the future with motorsport
Embarking on a new age© Michael Kunkel/Hoch Zwei
The E badge

Schaeffler has been using the opportunities provided by motorsport to test innovative technologies for many years. Formula E is a perfect example. “The know-how gained in Formula E is fed directly from the race track into production development, for instance in the areas of the E-axle, hybrid transmissions and electric motors for electric powertrains,” says Dr. Jochen Schröder, who leads Schaeffler’s E-Mobility business division. But this is not only about system understanding, material testing or efficiency increases – Schaeffler also pursues the objective of positively associating the topic of electric mobility with emotions in public perception.

Embarking on a new age© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
The best of two worlds

In 2022, Schaeffler is opening up a new, forward-thinking motorsport chapter: The Group’s subsidiary, Compact Dynamics, prevailed against a high-caliber field of competitors and will become the exclusive supplier of the hybrid system to be used by the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). The high-performance hybrid system featuring P3 topology (electric motor behind the transmission) combines the motor-generator, control unit and externally supplied battery in an extremely small space – with maximum power density. Initial vehicle tests are scheduled for 2021.

Trailblazer for autonomous driving

Digital instead of mechanical: Drive-by-wire systems like Space Drive from Schaeffler Paravan are a key technology for autonomous driving. In order to further optimize this innovation that has already achieved a high level of maturity (more than 1 billion kilometers (0.62 billion miles) of failure-free operation in road traffic), Space Drive is also used as an electronic steering system in motorsport, for instance in the Porsche 911 GT3 R fielded by KÜS Team75 Bernhard and in a rally Fiesta of former WRC driver and long-standing Schaeffler brand ambassador Armin Schwarz. The objective in either case: combining the unfiltered, full sensitivity of a mechanical solution with the digital opportunities provided by Space Drive. For instance, drivers should be able to select an individual steering map that will automatically adjust to changes in vehicle balance during the race and thus clearly reduces tire wear. Space Drive is also utilized in fully autonomous racing: it is planned that Schaeffler Paravan will equip all teams in the Indy Autonomous Challenge. In the event endowed with 1.5 million U.S. dollars, for which entries of students from a total of 37 colleges and universities have been submitted, autonomous roboracers are planned to contest a 20-hour race. The venue will be the legendary Indianapolis Speedway.

Embarking on a new age© Tim Upitz/ADAC
Carsten Paulun
Author Carsten Paulun
Carsten Paulun has a 30-year track record of writing about technologies and cars and gathered racing experience in the Nürburgring 24 Hours and other events. At the moment, he’s competing in an electric race car – a 1/24-scale Lamborghini Centenario in the semi-professional RCCO slot car racing series.