Set to run its first ever event in 10 days, ERA went to Pau last weekend for a demo event that was realised as a few laps done by a single car. It was small-scale, and was an important step, but is ERA ready to race?
On May 20-22, the world’s first all-electric international junior single-seater series will begin at former Turkish Grand Prix venue Istanbul Park. On May 6, ERA’s ‘Mitsu-Bachi’ F110e car did its first test run away from its Zolder base by running demonstration laps on the streets of Pau.
The chassis being used was the 11th and most recent to roll off ERA’s production line, and had done a single shakedown run at Zolder prior to being sent out to the Pau Grand Prix in an all-black livery. Its first street circuit mileage came in a gap in the schedule on Friday evening, and there was a demo on Saturday too before the remnants of an out-lap for Sunday’s schedule run as a human error on regenerative braking settings led to the car slowing down after completing just two corners once it went over the surface change after the first braking zone of the lap.
Despite his fairly limited time on track, Ellis Spiezia – one of only two drivers to be publicly confirmed to be racing in ERA – had a conclusive report to give on how the Formula 4-level car handled on a track with unique set-up demands.
“It’s been awesome. Pau is definitely a crazy circuit to be at. Especially the first time this car has been at a circuit outside of Zolder for testing,” the 16-year-old said to Formula Scout.
“Definitely a lot of track for me to learn, first time on a street circuit so it’s very much different. But the car has been great, handles awesome, been getting some good laps in so really happy to have the crowd as well.
“We’ve been at 130kw. It’s pretty close to what normal junior formula series run horsepower-wise. We’re messing with the regen, that’s something different. We regenerate power with the motors, that gives us some engine braking back there.”
The combination of that with mechanical brakes meant “we turned it down here to be a little bit safe, but when it’s up and you can use it it’s really, really nice; it really adds a whole other layer to the driving” and particularly on a track so heavily characterised by elevation changes. Another feature of Pau is the bumps and surface changes, which can cause torque spikes or even chassis damage when a car bounces over them.
That issue was “not terrible” for Spiezia in ERA’s car, saying it “definitely takes a bit more being careful on the throttle, being pretty cautious” to avoid impacts that would cause spikes that would put the car over its usual power output.
“Especially having so few laps, getting everything up to temperature and then going for it [requires caution]. But it’s been a really fun track. I’m a big fan of the banking and the whole vibe of the street circuit, so not too difficult but it’s probably the most challenging track that we’ll be at this year.”
The car ran on 13-inch Goodyear slick tyres, and Spiezia adds that it ERA’s technical staff “definitely had to do some interesting things with the pressures and the set-up itself of the car to get it feeling good” on a track with six-week-old asphalt.
“Overall it’s been pretty nice, once the tyres get up to temp they’re gone and they’re in. So I’m excited to drive more on them. Obviously no other junior formula series uses these tyres, so having that is its own challenge and looking forward to see how the grid itself handles it.”
Before arriving in Pau, the American also talked about how testing at Zolder had been going:
“The hardest part with electric vehicles and race cars is getting the balance correct with weight distribution, and the car is spot on to a normal combustion formula car. So having that as close as it is for being a first-generation of this car is really impressive and I think it’s why electric racing is the future because we’re already so close in such a new side of motorsport that given the same amount of time that we’d had with developing combustion cars, it’s going to be really interesting to see where it goes.”
There will be at least three other drivers joining Spiezia on the grid in 10 days’ time, although ERA targets to fill all 10 cars in its centrally-run, race-ready fleet, and Spiezia expects some long-run testing focusing on mechanical set-up will take place at Zolder before then. As in Pau, ERA will be on the support bill of fellow electric series the eTouring Car World Cup (ETCR) and its track time will consist of Friday free practice for 30 minutes, two back-to-back qualifying sessions of 15 minutes each on Saturday followed by an afternoon race, and then race two on Sunday.
The races will last 20-25 minutes and will have grids set by the results of the two qualifyings, where pole awards three points. The standard FIA single-seater points system is then used. There are two driver announcements coming in the next two weeks, and an ongoing search for more drivers who have €120,000* to hand to contest the full season.
Qualifying may be the most interesting part of ERA weekends as there is no charging between the two sessions, but there is the possibility to do it during the session. That will occupy a considerable amount of time and reduce the amount of laps that can be set, but then not charging also limits how long the car can run for. That means drivers may set fewer laps in Q1 than in Q2 to avoid a lengthy charge in the second session, or save energy for when the track is at its most rubbered in.
“We’ll get interesting grids, a bit of strategy involved there which is fun – it’s going to be up to you and your data engineer and your team manager to make a plan for that,” is how ERA’s sporting director Beth Georgiou summarises it, and she provided Formula Scout with some insight into how the start-up series will operate its races too.
“We will be allocated our own scrutineer, that’s standard FIA procedure to have a scrutineer for the series. In terms of sharing race direction personnel, it’s likely that at least a few of the personnel will be shared. It’s not normal to share stewards, so that will probably be separate, but there’s definitely going to be crossover with race direction with ETCR, that’s for sure.”
The all-European five-round calendar has been picked in part with a sustainability agenda so ERA “don’t have to fly things around the world”, and by being centrally run the environmental and financial impact of the road logistics are also reduced.
It has been compressed into a two-month schedule too, and Georgiou thinks that may help fill the grid as “it’s a really nice summer programme which means that for a lot of drivers you can add this on to whatever you’re doing for the year, and it’s just kind of two-and-a-half to three months of excitement being [broadcast] on Eurosport doing something new and exciting”.
Remarkably ERA will run as an FIA International Series in its inaugural season subject to meeting requirements in the FIA’s regulations, and drivers must be at least 16 years old and hold an International D licence to compete. Those who do will benefit from live telemetry, with engineers being able to give feedback on performance on specific corners and laptime gains while their drivers are on track rather than having to wait for a debrief session, and ERA says there are more technical features “in our basket waiting to come out” and will be revealed at a later date. It’s hard to judge just how pioneering this electric single-seater is unless we can understand all of its tricks.
The series was set to launch long before 2022, but the COVID-19 pandemic understandably threw its timeline back by a fair bit and particularly when it came to the supply chain for certain parts. It has a racing school in the pipeline too, and the other plan was for ERA to be an open formula with a ‘Sports’ class using the standard car based on Japanese F4’s Dome F110 chassis and equipped with the 24kwh battery and 130kw motor as seen in Pau, and an ‘Innovation’ class which would allow race teams to enter and also develop their own powertrain and energy storage systems. That idea has been pushed back to 2023.
The electric aspect already makes ERA stand out from other junior single-seater start-ups, with the new era of F4 chassis and engines actually designed with future hybrid integration in mind but with no proposed start date for that in any series, and Georgiou says “we genuinely believe that we can change the future of motorsport and that we’re in this really important point in time where drivers need to potentially prepare for an electric future; and any drivers that choose to do that now are going to be getting themselves ahead” as she points out that ERA’s lack of combustion engine would make it an easier sell for potential drivers to desired sponsors.
“With electric we’re seeing that there’s a lot of new sponsorship opportunities from backgrounds that are maybe completely focused on sustainability or green tech, but also from brands that are looking to shift that way because of their corporate, social responsibility targets and also from brands that have maybe never even touched motorsport before.
“If you choose to race electric at this point, you’re only one of 32 drivers racing in electric formula series. So obviously you’re giving yourself quite a USP to the brand. So even if you’re going after a brand which has a lot of drivers going after them, you can say ‘I’m different, and this is why, this is why I’m going to give you that visibility’.
That visibility includes live television coverage in 17 countries and streaming on Twitch, Twitter and YouTube, as well as being seen by ETCR’s paddock of three factory teams. The ERA champion will receive a prize test with one of those, and ERA technical director Dieter Vanswijgenhoven is confident that the link between the two series could turn into a pipeline for drivers, although ETCR only has a 12-driver and six-car grid at present and its pool of talent is all big-name factory drivers.
“[The factory teams] are going to see the progress of our drivers. There’s a possibility that a career path for a driver can be so much shorter than what it is in a combustion version,” he said.
“Nobody is being picked out of F4 to be a paid driver, right? You need to do several steps before you get to that point. And we’re in a space and time where there is this opportunity that a career path can be really, really short. So we see that as maybe one of the biggest advantages of what we’re doing.”
There is public interest in whether ERA could take on the role of support or feeder series to the all-electric professional single-seater series Formula E, with Formula Scout having revealed the considerations to reuse the soon-to-retire second-generation cars for a ‘FE2’ series, and ERA is “in regular contact” with Alejandro Agag and his team and has “had talks” about a support slot but said it “makes much more sense to partner with ETCR, mainly because they’re racing on circuits” which is considerably cheaper for all parties than street circuit events.
There’s planned integration of gaming into ERA, and lots of other idea that can’t be publicly discussed yet, but the big question is – as with any new series and particularly those with debuting cars and technologies – will there be a full grid by the first race? We will find out in 10 days…
*An updated figure from ERA, down from its previous estimation of €155,000
2022 ERA calendar
1 Istanbul Park, Turkey May 20-22
2 Hungaroring, Hungary June 10-12
3 Jarama, Spain June 17-19
4 Zolder, Belgium July 8-10
5 Vallelunga July 22-24