Porsche has long been successful in motorsport. From endurance road racing in the Carrera Panamericana and the Targa Florio, to the fire-spitting colossus of a 917 sports prototype thundering down the Mulsanne Straight at over 200mph en route to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Perhaps surprisingly then, in the next chapter of this storied racing history there is not a piston, valve or exhaust pipe in sight, as in the 2019/20 season, Porsche joined the Formula E, electric single-seater series.
It’s actually hard to think of a race series that has attracted so many major marques to participate, but Formula E has a unique appeal. Created by Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag in 2014, it was clear from the beginning that not only would the new project throw out the internal combustion engine, but also the rulebook on how to run a global racing series, too. No far-flung circuits, miles away from the nearest conurbation, Formula E was going to be contested right in the centre of some of the most famous cities in the world.
To date, it has raced in Paris, London, Hong Kong, and Beijing among others. Other tweaks to the traditional template include race events held over one day, instead of the F1 three-day-long weekend. The result: a broader base of fans, particularly families. The illusion that cars emitting eardrum-wrecking sound is essential for racing has also been trashed – there has proved to be a market for spectators who enjoy clean, tightly fought racing where you can still hear each other speak.
This makes for a great day out. Even the drivers seem to have fun. While as competitive on track as ever, they have a far more relaxing time out of the car than at the pressure cooker that is Formula 1. In between track sessions, they can often be seen mingling in the paddock, joking with each other while casually chatting to the racegoers. They appear not to sprint to the airport post-race, and prefer to head to the regular lavish after-parties, another signature dish from the bon viveur Agag. The city centre location also helps – Silverstone may be a fine racetrack, but is never going to win awards for gastronomy.
Andre Lotterer at the Saudia Diriyah E-Prix 2019
One man in the thick of this is the ever-smiling Belgian-German Porsche works driver André Lotterer. Handsome and charismatic, he also has the talent, and among other podium successes, is a three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In many ways, Lotterer is a throwback to a bygone era of racing drivers who enjoy racing in many different cars and series. He decided to join Formula E, he says, as he sees it as attracting a field of some of the best drivers in the world.
And while you might think racing super-fast prototypes around Le Mans would be harder, Lotterer feels Formula E is a tougher gig: ‘People from outside think, wow, you’re driving 350 kilometres an hour at Le Mans, but driving in a straight line at 350 is easy,’ he says casually. Formula E on the other hand… ‘It’s a lot of nerves… the tracks are surrounded by walls, and with energy management and 20 other guys that have exactly the same power it’s just crazy
out there, so it’s the first time in motorsport that I feel that the race is so intense.’ One mistake and it’s all over: ‘You lock up a bit and boom, you’re in the wall.’
He is also firmly behind the overarching reason Formula E was created, namely, to bring attention to electric power. ‘I think it’s very important the manufacturers join Formula E because it’s a platform for their strategies and to formally represent the sporting aspect of electric mobility. I think it’s a very important aspect for the future.’ He likes the idea of racing in a more green and sustainable way: ‘I think everyone has a responsibility to do something nowadays, and for me as a driver it’s racing in the series, but also Porsche with the engineers, it’s to put their best technology into a better and a cleaner way, and we are pushing the boundaries for having better software and more efficient motors.’
These technological advances are also helping shape the cars we mere mortals will drive on our daily errands. In September 2019, Porsche launched the Taycan – its first all-electric sports car – and will be hoping to draw on the things it learns when racing electrically to further develop its range. Of course, it’s not just about the technology, the optics are as important. If Porsche can win with an electric race car it will have a direct impact on sales of electric road cars. As the adage goes: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”.
TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team (Photo by Hoch Zwei)
Lotterer has found his spiritual home with Porsche. His father used to rally Porsches and even dropped the young André off at school in one of his Group B cars. It left a mark and it has been a life-long love affair ever since that has seen him collect a number of classic Porsche road cars. He certainly has found his team. ‘I was drawing 911s since I was a kid and, yeah, it’s something that just stays with you in your mind; it’s very prestigious. I mean who doesn’t love Porsche?’ The young hotshot German-Mauritian ex-Formula 1 driver Pascal Wehrlein will join Lotterer in the upcoming season. With a rookie year of groundwork under its belt and a potent driver pairing, the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team will look to add another trophy to its cabinet, albeit a quieter and cleaner victory than those past.
David Green Motoring correspondent for The Times Luxx magazine