After more than 30 years away from single-seater racing Porsche is back, following the first laps of the new 99X Electric car at the official test drives of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship for the 2019/2020 season in Valencia, Spain. Last week, Neel Jani and André Lotterer, the two regular drivers for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, joined rival manufacturers at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia for three days of track testing ahead of the contest’s launch next month.
Porsche’s competitive debut in Formula E will take place on November 22 and 23 at the Diriyah Circuit, in Saudi Arabia, a tough test in the street racing series described as ‘very challenging’ by drivers. This year sees Porsche enter the Formula E fray against the biggest line-up of manufacturers in the contest’s history, with 10 manufacturers and overall 12 teams on the starting grid. Kicking off Season 6 for the series, Porsche’s 99X Electric will compete for the first time on the track created in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage site on the outskirts of Riyadh.
The stakes will be high in the Kingdom, as it hosts a doubleheader. One man focussed on those early races is André Lotterer, who believes his team will learn a lot. And, new rules being introduced this year by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), present an opportunity for engineers to play an increased role in the path to victory, said the driver who joined Porsche this summer.
Speaking at the recent launch of the ‘Diriyah Season’, a month of sports events being staged in the Kingdom including Formula E, André Lotterer said: “It’s very exciting. The Diriyah Circuit is the best track in the championship’s calendar, it is very challenging to drive and, of course, thrilling as well because I’ve changed teams and I am coming with Porsche.
“There will for sure be a lot of things to learn for our first race together, but I will try to give them the most from my experience as possible. To be part of Formula E is fantastic. For me it is the place to be, the best professional environment, and for sure the race series of the future.”
Last year, the new Porsche driver tackled the Saudi street circuit with the Techeetah team, finishing 5th on the day, and 8th for the entire season. What sets the Diriyah track apart from others in the calendar is the number of turns, 21 in all, and the challenge they present. Some are ascending, some of them are descending, so drivers must contend with slopes and corners simultaneously, one second going down the next second going up. The course also features one of the longest straights of the championship where drivers will look to their cars to attack at speed.
Lotterer has been a Porsche works driver since 2017 and has also been active in the electric race series since the 2017/2018 season. In July, Porsche announced he was joining the manufacturer’s TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team to partner with Swiss racer Neel Jani. Jani has been a works driver since 2013 and at the wheel of the Porsche 919 Hybrid he took outright victory at Le Mans in 2016 and became FIA World Endurance Champion the same year.
Asked about his first race in Saudi Arabia, Jani said: “Special and very unknown I would say, because it is absolutely an adventure with many new aspects, and I will call it definitely a very new challenge in my life. But I personally look very much forward to finally kick off our debut season very soon.”
The Swiss driver added: “The Diriyah Circuit looks very tricky, very challenging and very technical. So, we are pleased to have a good simulator where we can hopefully really learn the track by heart at home in Germany. Obviously, we prepare the car as well as possible, but in the end, we are still a new team and there are a lot of thing we need to learn, for example how to handle a weekend, which we cannot learn at home. So, the first race will be a big challenge for us.”
Like all ‘Gen 2’ cars on the track, the Porsche 99X Electric will feature the same chassis and battery as its rivals, as per FIA rules, however, all powertrain components are developed by manufacturers. This gives Porsche engineers free rein over the electric motor, inverter, brake-by-wire system, transmission, differential, driveshafts, the suspension components attached to the rear-axle, as well as the cooling system and the engine control unit, the ECU.
The energy efficiency of the powertrain plays a decisive role in the competition, especially this year as new rules introduced by FIA mean a greater emphasis on this vital area, as drivers cannot conserve energy during race stoppages. It is a return to the early days of Formula E that saw rash drivers run out of power and stop metres from the finish line.
André Lotterer believes this will be a good development. He said: “The rules have changed this year, it means that when there are interruptions in the race, such as the safety car or a red flag or full course yellow flag, no energy can be saved. That will change the strategy and the dynamic of the race and I think it will be interesting for everyone watching.”