These Wild Battery-Electric Hydrofoils Are Going Racing in a New Powerboat Series
If you've ever thought "I wish electric racing was wetter," then there's great news.
The E1 Series has flown under the radar a little bit because boat racing kinda keeps to itself. But E1 isn't really boats; it's hydrofoils and it's definitely motorsport, brought to you by a lot of the same people behind Formula E. Using the experience that's made Alejandro Agag the guy you can trust to bring an electric series to life (E1 is his third, after FE and Extreme E), the idea is to prove electric marine technologies via the aggressive competition of racing.
It's all been mostly ocean vapor up until this point but now it's picked a battery manufacturer for the Racebird, E1 Series' seriously mean-looking blade racer, and things are getting serious. There's a proposed format and we've got specs of what the Racebird, E1's vicious-looking hydrofoil, is going to be working with. A 35-kilowatt-hour battery will give an output up to 150kW (roughly 200 horsepower), sending these things literally semi-flying over the water around harbor circuits.
The whole thing is the brainchild of Norwegian marine designer Sophi Horne, who wanted to make boats seem cool as a method of transportation. She contacted Agag and he was convinced enough to assemble the people now making E1 Series happen.
The plan is to go racing in harbors and off-shore places that can accommodate spectators. An in-game example on E1's site, where you can drive the Racebird in a probably not entirely physics-accurate way, shows a circuit in Monaco harbor.
There are a few more steps along the way to actually get there, of course. Horne had designed the Racebird but she hadn't negotiated the supply for its powertrain, which is what's starting to come together now. E1 announced this week that it's working with Kreisel, a specialist battery builder who supply performance, racing, and marine contexts.
Kreisel is currently contracted to supply batteries to FIA World Rallycross and the FIA World Rally Championship when it goes hybrid. It might seem a little bit backwards to decide the battery and the output before you have the powertrain but as E1 Series CEO and former motorsport director at McLaren Applied Technologies Rodi Basso told me, you have to start somewhere.
"The mission profile is the most important," he explained. "So you need to understand what the vehicle or the vessel is for.
"The first choice, from a technology standpoint is to understand whether to lean towards power density or energy density, which translated into English means: are you looking for torque, acceleration, pushing or are you looking for range?
"In the ideal world, you'd look for both. So that's where you need a partner like Kreisel to find the sweet spot of the technology that will allow you to be credible by your racing standpoints.
"But still—and this is the big challenge of all electric mobility —be reasonable about how much you can race for, time or miles distance. So that's the very first big checkpoint to take."
Kreisel uses extra-fancy battery technology with direct liquid cooling very similar to the sort seen in AMG's F1-inspired powertrain. So it's pretty bleeding-edge tech that will plug into the technology developed by Victory Marine on the rest of the Racebird. Still, there's a lot to get right before you try and do something like this for the first time, including making sure the Racebirds can complete an event and season safely.
Before the vessels go out on water, consequently, there's a lot of stress-testing to simulate. Basso said, "We need to understand that this power will be pushed to ridiculous limits from the drivers. They won't care about driving style, but they will care about pushing to the limit and being the first to be the fastest.
"So we are working and we will be working on a number of parameters, like pressure profile, like a race format which will inform the duty cycle. And so how much you use the battery, the highest power, and performance."
Basso said that "today, more than ever" motorsport "cannot live in its own right" but needs to "have something that could bring value or a service or a product to broader society, beyond the sport." In E1 Series' case, it's that when building the Racebird, it's thinking ahead to a hire-hydrofoil service that you, yes you, or I could use to get around our more marine cities.
"We claim to be the only sport that is born with a clear product," Basso told me. "So with the Racebird, we race the vessels—then we develop Seabird vessels, which will be inspired on the same technology and nautical architecture of Racebird. But it will be a vessel for six people, based on a foil."
He explained that the vision is basically an electric scooter ride-sharing scheme but for passenger boats. It's so people can "just enjoy the sea, the water with the least possible impact, from an environment standpoint."
That's a ways off yet. In fact, the Racebird itself hasn't even broken the waves. But in a world of rising sea levels, no one can be blamed for looking at water transport and trying to make that make sense on a mass level.
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