Opinion: Electrifying grassroots motorsport series

As the upper echelons of motorsport embrace electrification, so club racing will also have to adapt. Even leaving aside electric series such as Formula E, motorsport’s electrification is gaining pace. Formula 1 and endurance racing already feature full hybrid powertrains, and in the coming years the British Touring Car Championship, Indycar Series, World Rally Championship and more will all add some level of hybrid tech.

Of course, motorsport extends far beyond the rarefied air of professional series; the real challenge is electrifying the national and club levels. Even with a few notable early-adopting efforts, shifting an already hideously expensive sport to hybrid (let alone electric) power is a huge challenge.

But just as issues like climate change mean the car industry is being forced to make the shift, motorsport will have to follow – and help is coming. As with all technology, it will be a trickle-down effect, starting with works-based customer racing, particularly one-make series.

These enable firms to introduce relatively cost-controlled technology, while tight regulations protect a customer’s investment and allow for new innovations to be phased in without upsetting the competitive balance. And once hybrid or electric cars reach one-make series, it won’t take long for them to start finding their way into lower-tier championships. The Porsche Supercup is switching to synthetic fuels, but expect other series to go further soon.

Consider Alpine, which now runs all of the Renault Group’s motorsport projects, including the Formula 1 team and the one-make Alpine A110 Cup and Renault Clio Cup. It will become an EV-only road car brand by 2025, yet boss Laurent Rossi denies there’s a contradiction in Alpine racing in F1, saying this allows the French outfit to showcase its electricity management mastery.

So what of the future? He says: “We’re considering everything. We’re looking into the future being electrified. The FIA is looking into replacing most of the formulas we know today – including one that’s iconic to us, the Clio Cup – with future formulas that will be electrified. It would only be natural for us to carry on with cars that could cater to those competitions.”

Given that Renault now sells a hybrid Clio, it’s not hard to imagine the next-generation Clio Cup racer will be a hybrid. But I can imagine so much more. This is pure wishful thinking on my part, but I’m already picturing an eventual one-make championship for the planned Alpine R5 electric hot hatch. That could be quite a spectacle and really further the cause of electric motorsport.

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