Preview: FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup set to electrify Pau

This weekend sees the inaugural FIA eTouring Car World Cup get underway on the streets of Pau in France, with the series supporting the FIA World Touring Car Cup.

It might be being billed as the inaugural season, but that’s due to some subtle changes during the winter.

Last year was in fact the first season of all-electric touring car racing, with the Discovery Sports-promoted PURE ETCR series staging five events throughout Europe.

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The series came up with an innovate event format, in part forced due to the number of entries and completed cars at the time – each manufacturer only had two cars at their disposal, making a six car entry.

With 12 drivers per event, by splitting them into two groups and having drivers share a car, the series was opened up to more drivers to vie for the overall title.

The challenges posed by electric motorsport and battery capacity also saw short, sharp, battle events being held, with it taking 12 individual race sessions, each of typically between six and ten minutes, to crown a winner of the weekend.

There are slight changes to the format in this area for 2022. Drivers will each compete in two ten-minute qualifying sessions on Saturday morning, using full power, before going into the Quarter Finals and Semi Finals later in the day, with three drivers in each heat.

From the Quarter Finals onwards, drivers will use 300 kW of power, but be entitled to use their limited power-up, which boosts the power to 500 kW (c. 670 bhp).

The format culminates in a SuperFinal for each pool, which sees six cars on track at the same time to conclude the weekend. The points from all sessions are then summed to decide the overall event winner.

Tom Chilton, Hyundai Motorsport, Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
Photo: PURE ETCR

From PURE ETCR to the FIA eTouring Car World Cup

The FIA had invited tenders for the appointment of a promoter for an all-electric touring car series back in 2019. PURE ETCR was originally scheduled to get underway in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the launch to 2021.

Even then, last year, as PURE ETCR and without FIA blessing, was considered a learning ‘prologue’ year for all involved, ahead of the commencement of the FIA championship in 2022.

After Discovery, WSC Group (the global TCR and ETCR rights holder) and the manufacturers proved everything worked last year, 2022 heralds the official dawn of FIA electric touring car competition.

Aside from the FIA sanctioning, little has changed fundamentally from PURE ETCR. Three manufacturers, CUPRA, Hyundai and the Romeo Ferraris-developed Alfa Romeo remain on board, with no new marques entering the fray.

There will still be a series of battle events, and the field of 12 drivers per event will still be split into two different pools (although, curiously, this year titled ‘Pool Fast’ and ‘Pool Furious’).

The cars, which feature a standard kit supplied to teams by WSC Group and featuring battery packs from Williams Advanced Engineering and transmission from Magelec Propulsion, will again have two power modes – 300 kW and 500 kW (c. 670 bhp).

Cars will typically run at 300 kW, but when competing in the Quarter Finals onwards, they can use a ‘power up’ to deliver up to 500 kW for a limited time during the heat.

In terms of safety, improvements have been made over 2021. A new FIA e-Safety delegate will oversee the implementation of the new regulations and procedures. Training will be provided to personnel at the circuit prior to each event on how to deal with a critical situation involving high-voltage risks.

As with 2021, cars will continue to run on all-weather Goodyear tyres.

Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR
The cars are powerful – but heavy, weighing around 1,800 kg That’s 30 – 40% heavier than typical touring car. Photo: PURE ETCR

The top drivers from 2021 remain for 2022

From a sporting perspective, many of the top drivers from last year have been retained for 2022. Mattias Ekström, the PURE ETCR champion last year, not only remains with CUPRA but is now also acting as Team Principal, after the preparation of the CUPRA eRacers was handed to the Swede’s EKS team, having been run by Zengő Motorsport last year.

Ekström will again work with long-time CUPRA and SEAT driver Jordi Gené, although the duo will have two new team-mates in former DTM racers Tom Blomqvist and Adrien Tambay.

The theme of recruiting former DTM drivers continues at Romeo Ferraris, who have hired ex-BMW guns Bruno Spengler and Maxime Martin to join the series this year, alongside the returning Luca Filippi and the new-to-touring car racing Giovanni Venturini.

Hyundai Motorsport pulled off a huge coup in the off-season to attract Mikel Azcona from CUPRA, with the Spaniard, third last year, joining 2021 runner-up Jean-Karl Vernay. Making his ETCR début is 2019 World Touring Car champion Norbert Michelisz, whilst the other seat will be shared between Nicky Catsburg and Kevin Ceccon, as other commitments permit.

All three manufacturers will be fielding upgraded versions of their 2021 steeds – CUPRA racing the Leon eRacer, Hyundai running the Veloster N and Romeo Ferraris with the attractive Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
Photo: PURE ETCR

The future of touring car racing?

Marcello Lotti, the man credited with perhaps saving touring car racing globally via the introduction of the TCR concept in 2015, admits that he felt a responsibility to bring the sport of touring car racing into the new era of electrified motorsport.

“With a sense of responsibility towards the touring car racing scene, the WSC Group embarked on the ETCR project with the aim of educating the motor sport community in new technologies that are the future of eco-mobility,” said Lotti, the President of WSC Group.

“ETCR cars sport great racing look and are capable of amazing performance; they will prove to motor sport fans that racing can be exciting with the use of clean energies.”

The cars are billed as the world’s most powerful touring cars. That they may be – but at present there is a distinct lack of numbers to create the world’s most exciting touring car championship.

FIA Touring Car Commission President Alan Gow highlights their ‘unique demands’ in terms of both the underlying technology and their power – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the series will win fans over.

“Today, we’re on the eve of the inaugural FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup event and it has been a great pleasure to witness the development of this concept from the original idea to the present day,” said Gow.

“The cars are truly impressive in terms of performance and their unique demands represent a great challenge for the drivers.

“The series has all the ingredients necessary to produce a great spectacle and gives us plenty to look forward to this season.”

The series has to first overcome its complicated sporting format – which of course has been put in place as much due to technological limitations as it has to meet the needs of modern media.

Touring car racing is heading in the right direction, at least technologically. But many of the elements in place in ETCR at present need to be further evolved, or even ditched, before the widespread appeal of the concept can truly be untapped.

2022 FIA eTouring Car World Cup entry list

Driver No. Team Car
 Mattias Ekström 1 CUPRA EKS CUPRA eRacer
 Norbert Michelisz 5 Hyundai Motorsport N Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
 Bruno Spengler 7 Romeo Ferraris Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR
 Tom Blomqvist 10 CUPRA EKS CUPRA eRacer
 Giovanni Venturini 21 Romeo Ferraris Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR
 Luca Filippi 25 Romeo Ferraris Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR
 Adrien Tambay 27 CUPRA EKS CUPRA eRacer
 Jordi Gené 28 CUPRA EKS CUPRA eRacer
 Kevin Ceccon 31 Hyundai Motorsport N Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
 Maxime Martin 36 Romeo Ferraris Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR
 Jean-Karl Vernay 69 Hyundai Motorsport N Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
 Nicky Catsburg 88 Hyundai Motorsport N Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
 Mikel Azcona 96 Hyundai Motorsport N Hyundai Veloster N ETCR
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