The mandate? Define a new standard for single-seaters. The outcome? Formula E’s Gen2 car. Théophile Gouzin, technical director of Spark Racing Technology, explains its design process, the technical evolution and how it feels to drive a car you co-designed.
Founded in October 2012 by the renowned engineer Frédéric Vasseur, Spark Racing Technology specialises in the design and development of hybrid and fully electric systems. A motorsport veteran of 20 years, Vasseur created the company to coincide with the arrival of the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) Formula E Championship – the revolutionary and entirely electric car racing series.
A journey begins
In 2013, the FIA officially appointed Spark Racing Technology as the car supplier for its Formula E Championship. Three years later, they filed a tender for the chassis supply for season 5, which takes place in thirteen cities around the globe in 2018/19. The Spark engineers readily took on the challenge to increase the performance of the new Gen2 car. Equipped with a futuristic design, the SRT05e is much more powerful. Spark developed its new chassis.
From track to tech
Théophile Gouzin studied aeronautical engineering but got sucked into the world of automobile racing at an early age through internships. After years of working as a track engineer, Frédéric Vasseur, who had long kept an eye on the young talent, approached him, shook his hand and said “Théo, you will be the project manager and technical director of my company!”
Setting new standards
“The DNA of motorsport is composed of single-seaters. But with the Gen2 car, everybody at FIA and Formula E wanted to define a new standard,” explains Théophile. “When we handed in our bid, the design was already quite extreme. We had added a front fender to improve the aerodynamics, reduce the drag and distinguish it from the classical Le Mans car. Back then, we thought that it was already quite aggressive to design a car like this to race in city centres. The FIA, however, wanted us to go one step further.”
As a result, the engineers began to collaborate with a design studio. The necessary functions formed the basis of their work, while the creative minds experimented with unusual shapes and approached the engineers with the idea to remove the rear wing. A new design was born.
From theory to practice
“Once the design was agreed on with the FIA, it was on us to achieve the aerodynamic performance of Formula E without the rear wing. It was quite a challenge,” the engineer remembers. The teams invested a lot of time to work on the airflow underneath the car, which used to be laminar and steady. To fuel the Gen2 car, all the down force comes from the floor and its turbulent airflow, which also produces its typical jet sound.
The main difference is that the Gen2 car will be able to cover the full race distance at faster speed. “Isn’t it amazing that the drivers won’t have to swap the car during the race? It shows how the battery technology has progressed in the past five, six years,” Théophile remarks. “In his project we knew that we would design the car for a period of three years and that the battery would not change during this period of time. Consequently, we developed a single safety cell, which encloses the driver and the battery. This allowed us to increase the stiffness of the car and reduce its weight.”
Driving a car you co-designed
After all the hard work was done, Théophile and his team could not wait to take the new car for a spin. “When you sit in an internal combustion engine (ICE) car, you have a clutch, it’s hard, it’s shaky, it vibrates…but the way you leave the garage in the Gen2 car is incredibly smooth. Once you are on the track, a traditional engine gives the driver feedback on how fast they are going as you hear the engine raving. In an electric car, however, the only sound you hear is the air flowing over your helmet. Once you go past 100 km/h, the sound in the car is always the same. Only your visual senses are able to give you feedback on your current speed. As a driver, you need to adapt to that.”
Taking the streets
From the design studio, to the garage, to the track…to the streets? Do innovative technologies and practices developed in Formula E find their way into everyday life? “Carbon-fibre chassis have been used in motorsport to reduce weight. It made me very happy to see that they were also used in road cars at a certain point. This relates to what I like most about my job: I simply wake up in the morning and go to work without knowing which challenges will come up that day and which solutions we will find. It’s what keeps us motivated.”
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Video production: Daniel Dearing & Scott McNamara
Every racing driver will tell you that it takes an entire team to make sure he and his car are ready to hit the track on race day. The same is true of Formula E. We take you behind the scenes to meet the engineers, mechanics, team managers, logistics coordinators, track engineers, PR managers – and many more – who make it possible to race in over ten city circuits each season.