NASCAR’s stated goal for their “stock cars” has always been to reflect (in some sense) what you could buy at the dealership. But the EVs from those manufacturers, at this time, are all SUVs or crossovers—which reflect the norm of everyday life here in the U.S. That’s potentially why NASCAR could be open to manufacturers using the Toyota bZ4X, Chevrolet Blazer EV, and the Ford Mustang Mach-E as these are the common body types these manufacturers are using for their EVs. Here’s what it could look like:
The Racing Itself
Other than sound, just how different would an all-electric NASCAR race look like? For now, it seems like they are staying with a 30 minute sprint race rather than a many hours endurance race for these EVs. The advantage is that the time limit would allow the cars to run without needing a charge in the middle of a race. Even with a 900 volt battery system and a 400 kW charging rate, you’re still talking 20 minutes to charge a battery that would potentially last the 60-80 mile lifespan of the tires in a race. Helping that would be the regenerative braking provided by the motors of these purpose built racing EVs. Even in a short sprint race format, driving strategy (essentially, energy management) would play a huge part of the race. Go hard and hope the gap holds, or conserve early for a late charge?
Formula E’s next-generation car, set to debut in the 2022/2023 season, is a good illustration of these what a NASCAR EV series could look like. It is able to run a full race distance of 45 minutes with a top speed of 200 mph (up from 174 mph in the Gen 2 car) without charging its 800 volt battery system. It will also regenerate up to 40 percent of its battery capacity during the race using a 250 kW front motor used only for regeneration (limited to 600 kW of regeneration). That also means it will also not use hydraulic rear brakes, as its regeneration system is fully capable of stopping this car at race speeds along with the hydraulic front brakes. Formula E will also charge these cars between sessions with a 600 kW rate charger and is looking to start charging during pit stops in the very near future. Its rear drive motor produces 469 hp and the car itself weighs in at 1,852 pounds.
Underneath the Skin
The chassis itself will remain the same, again according to the alleged document, but the front and rear clips will be modified to accept the electric powertrain and store the batteries, but will retain the same suspension and braking system as the Gen Seven car. NASCAR is also looking to use three motors in an AWD layout, like how most OEMs are doing their high-performance EVs with a single motor up front and two in the rear. By using a 900 volt battery, these motors will have plenty of speed (electric motors need high voltage to turn faster) but NACAR also wants them to produce more than 1,000 hp when combined.
NASCAR is tipped to turn to STARD to provide such high-performance motors. STARD was the motor and battery system supplier for the latest SuperVan project by Ford, which uses four motors to produce 1,973 hp. If NASCAR ends up using a similar motor system and all of those motors produce the same power, a 1,480 hp NASCAR EV is possible. Ford’s electric SuperVan also uses a liquid-cooled 50 kWh battery pack that recharges in just 45 minutes through a standard DC fast charger. While the motors will be the same, each NASCAR EV’s sound could be very different—unique to each manufacturer. A Toyota bZ4X won’t sound like a Chevrolet Blazer EV nor a Ford Mustang Mach-E.
It’s also very possible that each manufacturer will provide their own motors and electronics that are output regulated by NASCAR rather than using ones provided by STARD, just as is done with Formula E and their manufacturers. If NASCAR wants to retain OEM support, we would expect this STARD-supplied motors and electronics to be only for these first exhibition runs and potentially even dropping that entirely by starting with OEM provided motors.
NASCAR estimates that the risk of fire is roughly equal to what its gas-powered cars face now, and it would require an absolute rupture of the safety cell for a fire to even start. We predict NASCAR will place the battery in the cabin area. By centralizing the battery pack, damage due to an impact is greatly minimized; the strongest part of the car is the cabin. Looking at other EV racing series like Extreme E (Formula E’s EV off-road series) and Nitro Rallycross’ Group E (where impacts aren’t unusual), this is where a battery pack is located. That could lead to safer cars with better weight distribution than their gas-powered cousins.
Ford Might Have an Advantage Here
When it comes to producing EV race cars, Ford potentially has a leg up in development. While both Ford and Chevrolet have made EV drag cars, Ford is currently the only manufacturer to go outside the quarter-mile with the aforementioned electric SuperVan and the Mustang Mach-E 1400. No matter which way NASCAR goes with EV motors and electronics in its rules package, Ford has both worked with STARD and used their own, in-house technology. For the Mach-E 1400, Ford used six motors with three sandwiched together for each drive axle, connected to a quick-change differential and swap-able suspension. With a simple gear and suspension change, the Mach-E 1400 is able to drift, race on a smooth track, and even do some rally-style runs. For the SuperVan, it uses four STARD motors but the front is a single gear while the rear was set up with a two-speed. First gear was very low for its sub-2-seconds 0-60 mph time while its second gear was used for higher speeds (over 198 mph) and more efficient running.
Toyota seems to be the lone manufacturer out of the insane EV loop. Its entire performance car lineup is ICE-powered and it has been more involved with hybrid and hydrogen powerplants, but high-performance EVs aren’t out of the company’s sights. Back in December, Toyota unveiled its all-EV future lineup and one promising standout was the Lexus Electrified Sport super car. Looking like a Supra on steroids, this future EV would not only use solid state batteries but also propel itself to 62 mph in the low two-second range. Again, if NASCAR decides to open up some of the electric tech, this could give Toyota a chance to use racing to enhance its own street-going EV product.
In fact, this entire NASCAR EV future would potentially bring back an old motto: race on Sunday, sell on Monday. Instead of smallblock, pushrod V-8s that aren’t used in the cars the OEMs sell (well, save for Chevrolet), it will be an all-electric powerplant and battery tech that will directly transfer from racecar to street car. That’s a future we’d like to see more of.