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Track testing the bold future of national-level electric racing

Embracing full electric cars for 2024 is a leap into new territory for the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, but one that has the potential to reap success. Autosport sent 2023's IMSA GTP champion, Alexander Sims, to Mantorp Park to try out the STCC's test mule

Alexander Sims, STCC's PWR002 prototype

Alexander Sims, STCC's PWR002 prototype

Engineering

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Becoming the first national championship to fully electrify is no small feat for the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship. The FIA’s ETCR championship that fell over after just two seasons had manufacturer support, whereas in this case there isn’t any input from manufacturers, so I’d say it is a bold leap to take. But as a fan of EVs, I was naturally curious about it, and when I was offered the opportunity to try out the STCC’s test mule at Mantorp Park I jumped at the chance.

The prototype PWR002 is a converted TCR racer, but features all of the same equipment that next year’s fleet of 12 410kW rear-wheel-drive cars will have. These will incorporate the original model’s chassis and be fitted with electric motors and other spec components by EPWR, which is part of the same group as the PWR Racing team that has won four of the last six TCR Scandinavia titles with Robert Dahlgren. The Cupra Born, Tesla Model 3, BMW i4 and VW ID.3 are in build, although the latter currently doesn’t have a team or drivers associated with it.

Having arrived at the track I was introduced to all the guys from STCC and EPWR, including Dahlgren and EPWR’s technical leader Janne Ljungberg. Dahlgren will race the Cupra next year and helped out with the initial PWR001 that came out in 2018. But once the 002 came along and had its first demonstration run at Mantorp with Joel Eriksson last year, EPWR wanted to keep it a bit more separate and distanced itself for fairness to the competitors, so it’s not like PWR has done all the development and will blitz everyone.

After watching some onboard video of the track to get an idea of how tight the corners were, and a run through of the controls from Janne, by 11am it was time to get out on track. I did two five- or six-lap runs – I apologise to Janne because I completely forgot to count what lap I was on in my first run! – which was enough to start getting a bit of a feel for the car.

The DTM Mercedes C-Class I drove in the 2008 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award evaluations was the only time I’d previously driven a touring car, but at the end of the day it’s a rear-wheel-drive racing car with a roof over the top, so not too dissimilar to a GT car or a Porsche Cup car that I have driven before.

My only prior experience with an electric racer that wasn’t clearly an ultra-refined Formula E single-seater, with 50 engineers working full-time on the project, was the four-wheel-drive RX2e electric junior rallycross car. I got to drive it at Calafat last year as a leaving gift from Mahindra, as they have a technical partnership with QEV who built the cars. That was where my mind was going before driving the PWR002 when I was thinking about it being a touring car that you’re going to smash the kerbs in and feel the body pitching under braking. And that pretty much matched up to where I ended with my impression.

Sims gets to grips with the STCC's PWR002 prototype, with the assistance of EWPR's Ljungberg

Photo by: Anders Helgesson/STCC

Sims gets to grips with the STCC's PWR002 prototype, with the assistance of EWPR's Ljungberg

I was happy that it was fast enough to be a challenge to drive. As a racing driver you would always like to have more power, but it was in the window of what felt like a decent racing car. I released the pit limiter and you get wheelspin. I left a decent line of rubber on the track!

Inside the cockpit it had super-simple software on the dash and there were very few driver aids, with no ABS or traction control. That’s not meant in a derogatory way. It was as plug-and-play a solution as it can be in terms of changing to electric, with the basic stuff you need like lap time, delta time, motor and battery temperature and very little else. Coming from Formula E where there’s so much information that the dash is trying to tell you to manage – energy, temperatures, tyres, brakes, all this stuff – there was none of that.

The PWR002 is quite a raw car. There’s a few different throttle maps, you can manually adjust the regen amount through a rotary switch on the steering wheel, and that’s about it. Once you know the procedure to switch it on and make the drivetrain live, it’s straightforward and should be accessible to a wide range of drivers. In the EV landscape, it does the job well of being a fairly pure racer that you can jump into and rag.

It was a handful and I came away smiling after both sessions. I wanted more laps in it!

Keeping it as simple as possible is the best policy and that seems to be what EPWR has done. I went to an ETCR race at Zolder last year and got talking to people from the ERA junior single-seater support series about all the things they were wanting to do with the cars, exploiting the potential fiddly bits that are great about having an electric car and trying to be a mini-Formula E. But to me that was just shouting for budgets increasing scarily, because you benefit from doing more testing, having more engineers to manage the systems and simulations. You don’t want complexity that will reward you for spending more money, so the STCC appears to be going down the right path by avoiding that.

That said, there’s still enough to be getting on with in the PWR002 to create opportunities for mistakes. For instance, when the battery is fully charged you can’t recuperate any more energy, and it’s just got a manual brake bias adjuster – there’s no brake-by-wire on the rear axle – which the driver has to use to compensate for the lack of regen. I’d guess it would be around six or eight clicks of brake bias to have optimal braking on the first lap and then be winding it back after that.

It’s not just this easy car to drive in a sense that you can do whatever you want with it. You’ll still benefit from fine-tuning the set-up and it’s still going to reward someone who’s on top of those nuances. It was a handful and I came away smiling after both sessions. I wanted more laps in it!

Sims believes the car straddles the line between being accessible but still challenging to optimise

Photo by: Anders Helgesson/STCC

Sims believes the car straddles the line between being accessible but still challenging to optimise

The grip level offered by the treaded Yokohama tyres, which are designed to be run in wet and dry conditions, clearly is not that of a slick. I found the lateral limit of the tyre within a few corners on my first run, and there was a little bit of squirming from the tread where it moves before the tyre actually slides on the surface, so you need to get used to that movement and use it. But the longitudinal performance didn’t seem too bad and under braking the car responded reasonably nicely.

The thing I was more impressed with was the tyre’s longevity from a thermal point of view. My experience in Formula E was that if you’re caning it then you really start losing tyre performance after two or three laps, but that wasn’t the case in the PWR002. There might have been some drop-off if I’d continued to do more and more laps fine-tuning things, but for the laps that I did there didn’t seem to be much. I could still improve just the corner aspect of things really late into the run and I wasn’t feeling like the tyre was massively dropping away.

The 50kW regen was adjustable and I fiddled around with that during the run. It’s noticeable and affects the rear axle a lot. You can use it to calm the car down entering a fast corner, or if you want a bit more rotation you just click the regen up and it’s effectively the same as going rearwards on the brake bias. It’s going to charge your battery more, and will also give you a little bit more power. That’s because it seems they allow the motor to put out all the power that the battery can deliver, so you’ve got the most power when the battery is fully charged.

The last run of the day was much better from the perspective of me getting more out of the car and I shaved three seconds off my time from the morning session, although I would say there was another couple of seconds in it. But probably my second or third timed lap was my fastest because, even though I felt like I was driving better and honing into the needs of the car, I’d be losing time as the battery voltage was going down and I just had less power. If the STCC opts not to cap the power so that it will be consistent through the run, then it’s going to be about optimising your lap very early in the run on a high state of charge.

Fortunately, the format will lend itself to this. Aside from the street events at Helsingborg and Gothenburg that will employ a Race of Champions-style head-to-head format, the main races at conventional tracks will last 15 minutes where drivers will drain the battery from full to empty, so I don’t think it’s going to create too much of a power management-type situation.

You might get a little bit of lift and coast at the end of straights, where you gain a negligible amount of lap time for energy spending to just try and keep that state of charge up a little bit longer, but it’s not going to be like Formula E. It did cross my mind that if a driver was smart at trying to lift and coast a bit, it could impact things, but it really depends what that drop-off is. I hope it doesn’t become a case of who can save the most energy at the start of the race and still be in the pack and just drive past everyone.

I naturally err towards wanting the STCC to succeed with its shift to electric and sincerely hope it pays off. It will be a tough nut to crack, because electrification changes the fans’ experience at the track with the difference in noise.

Sims is confident that the STCC's new era will provide fans with an entertaining spectacle as the cars move around

Photo by: Anders Helgesson/STCC

Sims is confident that the STCC's new era will provide fans with an entertaining spectacle as the cars move around

The organisers need spectators to buy into it, but I’m confident that it can still be the exciting spectacle that touring car fans expect with close racing, the odd bump and crash, and the cars moving around on track. From my short experience, I’m sure the box will be ticked in terms of the cars looking lively!

Something I recognised quite quickly about Formula E was that it was exciting not necessarily because it was electric. I enjoyed being a part of it because there was lots going on, rather than because it was an electric version of another racing car.

My experience in Formula E was that if you’re caning it then you really start losing tyre performance after two or three laps, but that wasn’t the case in the PWR002

So, while it’s clearly important for the partners and from the technological aspect to champion the electrification and the sustainability that it’s bringing – the battery storage units will be charged from renewable energy off site and then be brought to the track to charge the cars in the pits – to be successful the STCC has got to captivate people from a sporting point of view. Unfortunately, this is completely irrelevant to the investment being made to switch over to electric drive!

I really hope that there’s continuous buy-in for multiple years from the partners and the private race teams to continue running them and that the numbers increase. Stakeholders in the STCC have had to be patient this year, but if they stay the course then it has all the components to reap the fruits from its leap of faith. The next question is: how long will it be until other national series follow suit?

Autosport thanks Alexander Sims, the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, Johan Meissner and EPWR for their assistance with this feature.

 

The STCC’s shifting sands

While its British counterpart has enjoyed fairly stable regulations since moving away from Super 2000 towards Next Generation Touring Cars (NGTC) in 2011, the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship’s move to full electric cars is only its latest big shift in the same timeframe.

It started out as the Swedish Touring Car Championship in 1996, capitalising on the Super Touring boom by giving former BTCC racers a second home. Jan ‘Flash’ Nilsson was its first champion, while Mattias Ekstrom was launched into the DTM shortly after his 1999 title triumph. The STCC belatedly switched to S2000 for 2003, before merging with the Danish series and rebranding as the Scandinavian championship for 2011.

In a sign of its growing stature, that season featured international drivers including Colin Turkington, James Thompson, Gabriele Tarquini and Fabrizio Giovanardi taking on local aces Rickard Rydell, Fredrik Ekblom, Tommy Rustad and Richard Goransson. But it preceded a damaging split, as teams proved reluctant to copy the NGTC formula favoured by the STCC and formed the breakaway TTA Racing Elite League.

After just a single season, in 2013 the TTA merged back with the STCC, which took on its formula of 3.5-litre V6 silhouette cars. However this model proved difficult to market to manufacturers and never truly took off, with Polestar’s Cyan Racing arm undefeated before the production-based TCR model was embraced for 2017.

Series veteran Robert Dahlgren, a race winner dating back to his first season in 2004, and the PWR Cupra team proved the era’s dominant force with four titles. Dahlgren had to give best in 2018 to Johan Kristoffersson, who underlined that he’s more than a rallycross ace by adding a second STCC crown to his 2012 success, while in 2020 Rob Huff pipped Dahlgren to become the STCC’s first non-Scandinavian champion since Roberto Colciago in 2002.

The planned switch to electric cars for 2023 has been pushed back a year due to supply-chain issues for battery supplier STARD, but 12 cars are expected as the STCC becomes the first national or regional touring car series to fully electrify. The calendar has yet to be announced.

The move to TTA rules didn't pay off for the STCC, prompting a switch to TCR rules for 2017

Photo by: Cyan Racing

The move to TTA rules didn't pay off for the STCC, prompting a switch to TCR rules for 2017

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