Racing: Drayson B12/69EV


Drayson Racing Technologies' all-electric B12/69EV racecar is an exciting preview of the sort of tech we can expect when Formula E commences in 2014. We visited their workshop in Oxfordshire to explore the car at first hand and get an idea of what goes into a car that is the first of its kind.


It’s very quiet on the lustrous workshop floor at Drayson Racing Technologies HQ in Oxfordshire. No tools in sight, no doors left ajar, and not even the faintest whiff of oil - just a liveried transporter and two race cars up on chassis stands like some kind of space age gun rack. First is the repeater rifle – an Aston Martin Vantage-based GT2 car powered by second- generation bio-ethanol that the team has successfully raced around the world. The second car has more in common with a railgun – it’s a Le Mans-spec Lola Drayson B12/69EV that’s the ultimate showcase for what an electric car is capable of.

200mph and more than double the power of Tesla's BMW M5-slaying Model S

Both look stirring in British Racing Green, but it’s the Lola that we’re here to see. DRT describe the B12/69EV as a technology demonstration platform, and are using the project to get a head start in the expertise of technology that they think is going to be important. Just like the Williams FW14B was an augury for road car technology in the early 1990’s, the B12/69EV incorporates features like wireless charging and uses advanced lithium iron phosphate batteries that can expel charge considerably faster than next door’s Nissan Leaf. It also has the capability to charge those batteries on the move. The project is an ambitious research venture into green motorsport by former Science Minister Lord Paul Drayson and his wife Elspeth, and the B12 is a running test bed for a car that will eventually compete in Formula E, the electric equivalent of Formula One that’s due to commence in 2014. Put simply, the B12 is a tangible illustration of what the future of motorsport could look like, and with under-track inductive charging, even the 24 Hours of Le Mans could be electric in twenty years time.

The B12 design has more in common with Le Mans than F1, but the tech is for Formula E

THE CAR Shod with a set of warm Dunlop slicks, the B12 reaches 60mph in three seconds flat. Just 2.1 seconds later and you’re into three figures. Keep your foot down and the B12 continues pulling hard into a thickening atmosphere – in the inexorable way native to electric cars - until it reaches a top speed that nudges 200mph. If the B12’s staggering speed isn’t entirely unique at the ultra-competitive apex of global motorsport, then its realization exclusively through the flow of electrons certainly is. Without a drop of oil in sight, the B12 instantly shatters the ‘eco-box’ myth. It takes a moment or two to get your head around the Lola Drayson B12/69EV. Built on the current Lola chassis, it looks just like a LMP1 category competitor; specifically the kind that pound La Sarthe at speeds of up to 230mph equipped with a V10 engine coupled to a six-speed sequential gearbox. This conventional setup couldn’t be further from the reality, for although the B12 was initially outfitted with a five-and-a-half- litre biofuel engine, in its place now sit four YASA-750H electric motors, each delivering 160kW of power. It’s worth noting that the top-spec Tesla Model S (which will dispatch a BMW F10 M5 in a straight line) generates less power overall than the B12 does from just two of its four motors. Torque, all of it going through the rear wheels, is rated at 3,000Nm. That’s not a typo; the B12 really does generate nearly three times the torque of the Porsche’s Herculean 917/30 Can-Am Spyder. 

It wouldn't be a proper racecar without a stupidly complicated steering wheel

So the B12 is fast, but there’s more to it than that. Although the car is constructed around an LMP1-spec carbon fibre monocoque, the nose cone is constructed from recycled carbon fibre – a process for which technology is steadily advancing – and the louvres adorning the reptilian fenders are rendered from hemp. Regenerative braking is a technology we are familiar with on road cars, but the B12 additionally incorporates energy recovery damping, whereby energy absorbed from bumps in the track and under braking, rather than being dissipated, is harvested into a separate battery that powers the car’s low-energy electrical systems – a system that could capitalize on Britain’s threadbare road surfaces. From a racing viewpoint an electric motor may simply be a more efficient method of propulsion than a combustion engine, but the B12 has a conscience all the same.

Formula E cars won't generate anywhere near as much downforce as F1 cars, which is good

FORM WITH FUNCTION Motorsport categories are defined by the cars that race in them. F1 cars, for example, are the definitive example of form following function,but with less than half the downforce and more emphasis on mechanical grip, Formula E cars – including Drayson Racing’s competitor (yet to be seen) – have an opportunity look beautiful as well as adhering to aerodynamic and packaging criteria. And who doesn’t wish that KimiRaikkonen’s Lotus E20 looked more like Jim Clark’s 49? Taking Sergio Rinland’s (ex-designer for Sauber and Benetton) concept rendering as inspiration (overleaf), students on the Vehicle Design programme at the Royal College of Art are competing to design a car that will race in Rome and Rio de Janeiro, amongst other cities, when the seriesstarts in 2014. Workshops on materials, production engineering and aerodynamicswill help the students but there will be creative scope in addition to the scientific parameters. The popularity of Formula E will hinge on a few factors – notably its sustainable nature and audience interaction – but this alliance between what will likely be one of the leading teams and the RCA presents an opportunity for Formula E to capture the imagination in a manner than simply isn’t yet possible in motorsport events.

The B12 is perhaps most beautiful in profile, whilst it's innards are slightly more complex

Lord Drayson set a new electric record at last year's Goodwood Festival of Speed. Surprised?

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