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EV Development: Electric Dream

Drayson Racing Technologies is building a business in alternative-powertrain development, using best practice from the OE and motorsport worlds

 

Just as all-electric road cars have yet to fully break through to the mainstream (exceptions such as the Nissan Leaf aside), so the world’s racetracks have yet to resonate to the silence of four-wheeled electric competition. Yes, there have been exceptions such as drag cars, student specials, and the two-wheeled TTXGP series, but mainstream racing cars remain resolutely ICE-powered.

The real birth of international electric car racing should come with the FIA’s new Formula E championship, which is scheduled to begin, in demonstration form at least, in 2013. A number of organizations, including Toyota Motorsport GmbH and Fondtech, have tendered for the contract to build the cars, with the already delayed decision by the FIA due imminently.

Another of the bidders is Drayson Racing Technologies, in partnership with fellow UK firm, Lola. Drayson has form in running alternative-fuel sports prototypes for the company’s founder, Lord Paul Drayson, a former UK government minister. Now, in order to showcase what’s possible and prototype much of the technology that would be used in a Formula E drivetrain, the partners have unveiled the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV, an all-electric Le Mans Prototype race car boasting a mind-bending 640kW (850bhp) of power and 0-60mph acceleration in 3 seconds.

The car is intended to raise the profile of electric motorsport – and Drayson’s expertise – by racing against the clock rather than other competitors. But it has also played a central role in readying the Drayson organization for the high-end automotive and motorsport development projects that, it hopes, will be central to its future prosperity.

“We’ve taken a high-quality, automotive-like approach to designing it,” explains Angus Lyon, chief engineer for electric drivetrain at Drayson Racing Technologies. “We’ve done an awful lot of simulation, design, analysis, and requirements capture, and then followed that through a closed loop, which means all the people supplying us have a 30+ page specification document for what we want them to provide and – by the way – in three or four months’ time please. That’s proved challenging – quite a lot of people in the electric industry are quite new and are struggling to understand the OEM-type approach. What we’ve tried to get is a decent balance between an OEM approach in terms of safety and quality, but more of a motorsport-type approach in terms of speed and efficiency.”

With extremely high voltage levels required to deliver the car’s performance, safety has been top of the development agenda from day one. Drayson has been involved in the development of the safety package for Formula E, but it’s not just current and future motorsport regulations that have been taken into account; road-car standards are also considered. Lyon believes that the processes put in place can only enhance Drayson’s credibility to future partners.

“With the voltage and performance it has, and no differential, the car has some fairly nasty failure modes,” he observes. “As a company, we have to prove that we can deliver safe, high-quality systems. If you were designing this type of thing for a road car, you’d have to be following ISO 26262. That’s quite a big task and so by doing something that’s quite a lot of the way there – and I have prior experience of 26262 systems – it’s a challenge, but it can change your way of thinking and your design to make it both safer and more efficient. And in some ways, you can deliver it more quickly if you’re intelligent about it. If we’ve done all the thinking, design, analysis, and simulation up front, then when it hits the track you know it’ll be 95% of the way there, not 50% of the way there.”

Lyon adds that this is some distance from an approach that’s still prevalent in the nascent EV sector, whereby off-the-shelf motors, inverters, and batteries are brought together with minimal integration. Drayson’s small but expanding engineering team has developed all of its own control systems and worked with Cosworth on ECUs and the data support package.

Simulation work on the car has taken a number of forms. Lola has undertaken the lap time and aerodynamic elements, and suppliers have played a part, too – for example, Oxford YASA’s thermal modeling of the electric motors. “We decided just to complement that with the control-systems simulation, the electrical systems, and battery simulation,” says Lyon, for whom unflashy MATLAB/Simulink and Excel-based tools have been key. “There’s been a lot of work on simulating the battery (current, voltage drop, thermal characteristics, battery range; and the same with the high-voltage circuitry), temperatures of the motors, inverters, down to things like fuses and cables. It’s been very collaborative to bring it together efficiently and ensure there are no two identical pieces in the jigsaw.”

The B12/69EV has plenty of unproven elements to master. The electric motors put out more power than any previous such units from YASA. A123 Systems’ Lithium Nanophosphate cells are also previously unused. Post roll-out, the car was stripped for dyno testing of the motors and inverters at YASA, which met the team’s expectations in terms of performance and thermal behavior. In parallel with that, Lyon reports that the HiL and electronic systems testing has also progressed well. The final assembly and commissioning is due to commence in May, prior to the start of full-vehicle testing.

This conservatively built demo car is also heavier than a fully developed thoroughbred racer would need to be – at just over 1,000kg, it tips the scales with around 200kg more mass than a regular ICE-powered Lola LMP. As Lyon says, “There’s a lot of copper on this car and you could take a lot of it out when you started looking at optimizing it for the drive cycle you’re going to do.”

And as well as being early days for this unique race car, these remain early days for Drayson as a business.
“When you look at the car, everything’s in there,” says Lyon. “It’s very safe and has been very well thought through. You could take this out and put it in another race car or a road car, so it gives us as a company a very good foundation. And if you get your foundations right then it means the next project starts from this, not from scratch. It’s a much more productive way to build a business.”

 

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