Nearly two years after being announced, an all-Tesla racing series has been given full approval from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the association that oversees Formula One and other major motorsports around the world.
The ultimate plan for the Electric Production Car Series (known before as the Electric GT World Series) is to become the venue where manufacturers can pit their best-performing electric cars against each other. Since there is a dearth of performance electric cars at the moment, though, the series is starting with Teslas.
Specifically, the field will be made up of race-modified Tesla P100Ds that have nearly 800 horsepower. The plan is to race on major circuits, like ones where F1 competes, though the series is still locking down scheduling, locations, and talent. It hopes to run the first race later this year.
Still, getting FIA approval is a huge step forward. The organization is comically stringent, so this is not just some frivolous acknowledgment that the EPCS has acquired. The series still needs a full roster of teams (it only has one signed up at the moment), a full schedule’s worth of tracks, and lots more money. But that should all theoretically get a bit easier now that the FIA has signed off on the series.
Competition for the series, in the meantime, is heating up. Formula E, the biggest (and therefore most popular) all-electric racing series, is already a few races into its fourth full season. This week, for the first time, Formula E showed off the radical new racecar that the series will switch to when season 5 starts this fall. Meanwhile, Jaguar plans to run a support series at Formula E events that pits 20 of its I-Pace electric SUVs against each other. There are electric competition classes at Pikes Peak, Isle of Man, and many other motorsport events and series around the world.
So, the longer EPCS waits to get rolling, the less notable it will be that it’s focusing on electric technology, and a bigger premium will placed on the series’s ability to draw fans, viewers, and big-name manufacturers.
There are more practical and immediate hurdles it has to clear, too. I got to drive the prototype version of the EPCS’s Tesla racecar in November. It’s heavy as hell, but was fast and fun. And yet, it wasn’t able to run at full speed for more than a few laps at a time.
That’s because all the race modifications in the world (stripping out the interior, changing the tires and suspension, putting a spoiler on the back) don’t change the fact that it’s still a Tesla controlled by Tesla software. And since Tesla isn’t particularly keen to let people go poking around in the company’s software — specifically on the battery management side of things — the problem with running the car on a race track is that it still thinks it’s a road car, and so the system starts to shut down when it notices that the battery is getting too hot. Oops. (Tesla isn’t officially endorsing the series, but EPCS says it’s had conversations with the California company, so it’s aware of the effort.)
The ultimate idea of EPCS is a dream. Who wouldn’t want to see a field of drivers competing in race-ready versions of the P100D, Jaguar I-Pace, Porsche Mission E, Aston Martin RapidE, or hell, even the new Tesla Roadster? The EPCS might have a shot at being the series that makes something like that possible, but it has to survive until those cars are all on the market. If not, then someone else surely will.