Electric and hybrid touring cars are charging in

The future is clearly electric, or part-electric, as three major touring car championships have confirmed their future plans in this space in just the past few months.

This weekend, the new ETCR project from World Sporting Consulting (WSC), the creators of the world-dominating TCR (Touring Car Racer) concept, was formally given a 2020 launch date at an event in Barcelona.

The ETCR series will be promoted and run by WSC, who also promote the TCR Europe Touring Car Series, effectively the successor to the TCR International Series, which in its three years managed to reset the touring car landscape, with the TCR touring car model becoming the global touring car standard, with over 600 cars produced in over four years, eclipsing all technical regulations developed in terms of volume from the past three decades.

The focal point of the ETCR project is the Cupra Racing developed e-Racer, a car which is visually related to the road-going León, but shares very little with the family hatchback.

The Cupra e-Racer produces 680bhp, with 500kW peak power for a limit of ten seconds, and unlike the front-wheel drive-only TCR cars, the ETCR cars will be rear-wheel drive. The car was demonstrated by Cupra Racing’s long-time development driver and former WTCC racer Jordi Gené at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Cupra Racing has been WSC’s close partner right from the start of TCR when the concept was first announced in 2014. Cupra Racing were formerly known as SEAT Sport, and the Spanish subdivision of SEAT has been responsible for building around three-quarters if not more of the TCR-specification cars in existence, with the Martorell based operation also responsible for building the Audi Sport RS 3 LMS and Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTI TCR race cars.

The Cupra e-Racer was first seen at the start of this year soon after SEAT confirmed it was spinning off “Cupra” a a performance sub-brand.

Other manufacturers who are also joining the electric touring car circus will be announced shortly. It’s likely models from the rest of the Volkswagen Group will follow in the shadow of the Cupra model, while whether existing TCR manufacturers or all-new ones make the jump remains to be seen.

The timing of the ETCR’s first season is also very interesting. The TCR technical regulations are leased to the Eurosport Events-promoted FIA World Touring Car Cup until the end of 2019, and after that it’s unclear whether TCR and Eurosport will renew their deal, or part ways, which may leave the door open for someone else to take over as promoter of the top TCR racing tier.

At this point, Eurosport could relaunch the World Touring Car Championship with another high-technology concept, or go another direction, including leaving the arena entirely. ETCR is most certainly going to have the electric touring car market sewn up, leaving hybrid technology as the only future-proof model which could entice official manufacturer entries to race in another “World Championship” from 2020.

The Swedish are playing with electricity too

The ETCR launch at the TCR Europe Touring Car Series finale at Barcelona echoes a near-identical press launch made by the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship just a month earlier, when the STCC promoter Hans Bååth and teams’ champions PWR Racing unveiled their electric touring car concept, the PWR 001, with the car being showcased by their test driver, Karlskoga race winner Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky.

Also modelled on the SEAT León, although this is more coincidental and nothing to do with the Spanish manufacturer’s e-Racer. This is because the PWR Racing team are the dealer-backed racing team of SEAT Sweden so it’d be odd for them to have turned up with another brand, and also they already had the TCR-specification Cupra TCR race car at their disposal to use as a base.

The 600bhp electric car powered around the Mantorp Park circuit ahead of the Sunday’s final races, with Åhlin-Kottulinsky behind the wheel of the car.

Although the STCC hasn’t gone as far as to commit to an electric future as yet, this proof of concept could become a reality in Sweden in just 3–4 years, says STCC CEO Bååth.

The British are coming…but they’re going hybrid

Meanwhile, there was a shake up in the UK recently as well, with the popular British Touring Car Championship confirming it would continue with its current technical regulations into a new five-year cycle from 2021, with the only change the addition of a hybrid power unit, sitting alongside their 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines.

The unit will be a spec-design, provided by lease from TOCA, much the same way the ‘TOCA engine’, provided by Swindon Racing Engines is available to all teams on a rental basis if they don’t opt to produce their own.

BTCC promoter TOCA boss Alan Gow told this writer that going electric, as many championships such as FIA World Rallycross Championship have committed to and even Formula 1 has indicated it’ll be moving towards, would be premature for the BTCC and out-of-step with the car market, but that hybrid is definitely the right step at the moment.

“It’s increasingly what the public are now buying, and in another three years’ time when we bring it in, even more so,” said Gow to this writer. “By the time we bring hybrid into the BTCC, the majority of new cars on the road will probably be hybrid. So, it’s about relevance to the market, which also ticks a couple of boxes. First, it makes it attractive to manufacturers as that’s right at the top of their shopping list, and also it provides a different sporting element into the series.”

Indeed, with the UK government having committed to phasing out petrol and diesel engines from the country’s roads by 2040, with moves to bring that even further forward to 2032 in progress, the focus on hybrid has never been higher in Britain.

So, electric, or hybrid. The question seems to be more about which at the moment. While all touring cars at the moment are petrol, with diesel-power deprecated at the end of the Super 2000 “TC2” set of regulations, petrol powered race cars may enjoy a reasonable lease of life as part of the customer racing framework of TCR regulations, for the series that are hoping to entice manufacturer involvement or investment, you’ve got to put a battery in your touring car very soon, or you’ll run your championship down.

This article is also featured on TouringCarTimes.com.

Motorsport journalist and PR manager. Writes for some of the world’s top motorsport news media and championships. www.neilhudson.net