Together with Autoappassionati (italian automotive editorial website) we have made a point about the development progress of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR, which is borning at Romeo Ferraris’ facility. For sure, one of the most attended car of the Pure ETCR championship.
When we will see the car on track? Read the article below (original italian interview by Tommaso Corona).
Let’s go back to December 6, 2019, when Romeo Ferraris announced the arrival of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR , electric competition version based on the popular sedan; a project born, from scratch, for the new Pure ETCR championship, initially scheduled “to debut” in 2020 and obviously postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The development of the Giulia ETCR, however, didn’t stop in these months, thanks to the modern technologies that allowed the smart working to the project dedicated engineers; we talked about it with Marco Calovolo, CEO of Hexathron Racing Systems (italian engineering company focused in motorsport consultancy and design) who’s coordinating the project with Technical Director Maurizio Soro and Romeo Ferraris’ staff.
Thanks to the end of the restrictions imposed by the lockdown, we visited Hexathron Racing Systems headquarter in Milan just to have a chat with Marco Calovolo. When will we finally see the car on the track? What are the biggest challenges during these months? In our exclusive interview you’ll find these answers and other curiosities about the new Giulia ETCR.
A new project for Hexathron Racing Systems, on behalf of Romeo Ferraris. First question, a bit mandatory: how is the development of Alfa Romeo Giulia ETCR going?
“We are proceeding well, despite all the difficulties, thanks to the excellent coordination of the project by Romeo Ferraris. We are moving forward on every aspects, primarily with the body. In parallel, we are proceeding with the definition of the components, where sometimes we have had to revise something due to technical regulations updates because the ETCR is a championship born from scratch. The car project is proceeding well, it’s a new theme and only when we will be able to put it on track, we’ll understand much more“.
Without the first shakedown on track, what is or what has been the biggest challenge of a new project like this?
“To put everything together and check that the car has no functional problems, no doubt. Obviously it is very different compared to a conventional car, and one of the key point is the weight. Actually it seems that road tyres will be used for the series, so it is difficult to predict what will be the car’s behavior. Therefore, the first step is to combine everything between design and assembly phase, then check the operation and last – but non least – have a first proper test on track, in order to discover the real battery life and to see real performance and much more”.
As a battery supplier, did Williams Engineering speak with the engines off?
“Yes, we know the main characteristics of the battery and I think it has been sized to operate at maximum performance both in what should be in Qualify Mode and in the Race mode; It should have around 20 mins life time, roughly the length of a WTCR race. From then, we can start the first simulations.”
Is there any news on the race format already discussed?
“Yes, we think it will be something halfway between WTCR and WRX (Rallycross), therefore with a standing start, limited laps, etc. Along with Romeo Ferraris, we have to understand mainly the battery life and how to manage it, which depends on the used mode, check if the braking system setting is appropriate and how it works on the re-gen strategies. All this plus many other parameters are linked to this new motorsport “concept” applied to the Touring car category”.
In terms of pure performance, there is talk of cars with more than 650 hp that “should” promise well…
“Of course, we expect brutal accelerations, close to electric street cars. The related problem will be to understand the limit of the tire, which will be heavily stressed from driving style, car weight and other things. We already know that there will be only one type of tire, for everyone, to be used in all conditions, dry and wet.”
As for Cupra and Hyundai, challengers of Romeo Ferraris in the ETCR and already on track with their cars, which are the critical issues on track?
“What we need to evaluate in the best way will be all the procedures. From how to work on the car to all steps related to recharge. On this point it was found that the charging times seem to be reasonably reduced (approx. 1 hour to go from 20% to 90%). These are all the numbers that we need to check and think of the first time we’ll be able to go out on the track.”
Taking a step back, who had the idea to have an Alfa Romeo Giulia in a championship dedicated to electric cars?
“The idea was born from Romeo Ferraris, who received the approval of Alfa Romeo which, of course, provided them two chassis; but Romeo Ferraris is 100% owner of the project. They joined this idea with great courage and, at the same time, with a highly competitive soul. The competitors are all official manufacturers and this increases the spirit of competition and the desire to conquer new trophies.”
The first plan of Eurosport Events and WSC was to unveil the cars at the Goodwood Festival of Speed; now we are talking about October. A real date?
“The idea would be to join a WTCR event (which will have only european rounds this year) to unveil all the ETCR cars, including the Giulia ETCR, and to get the first direct feedback and think about 2021 for a real championship start. We plan to have the car on track, but we still don’t know which one, for a private test, within October. Covid-19 pandemic delayed everything by about 4 months. We at Hexathron Racing Systems had planned to have the car ready for June, so that’s why I say that we could finally see it ready for a real test in a few months. First of all, however, the first installation of the battery pack will be made at the Williams headquarters in Grove England, although Romeo Ferraris has already created a mock-up to check the dimensions,positioning and other structural checks. Therefore, the real shakedown could likely take place in UK, it is essential that their engineers are onsite”.
Once you have completed the shakedown, can you proceed independently, always talking about a joint work between Hexathron Racing Systems and Romeo Ferraris?
“From that moment optimistically yes, being able to have everything you need such as generators for charging or for the cooling kit.”
From an aerodynamic point of view, what should we expect from the Giulia ETCR?
“This car is very interesting, as it’s street version, more than anything else because it’s born with rear-wheel drive. I think they could have more issues due to original FWD cars. Talking about aero, our first work was focused on efficiency and drag. Many parts have a shape approved for regulation (bottom, diffuser, splitter, wing) but you must expect a car with clean lines. No virtual mirrors or anything like that, it will be a car similar to the current WTCR, then alternative solutions can be considered for the future. At the beginning there was the idea of a first approval at the end of June and then confirm the final version at the end of the year, but even in this case is a matter of moving everything forward by a few months. We are taking care of every detail of the project, the car will be beautiful, all fans will be excited about it for sure”.
There is a bit of a restraint about not seeing Alfa Romeo directly involved in this championship. What do you think?
“The matter is to believe or not in motorsport. Romeo Ferraris has taken charge of the idea, Alfa Romeo should commit itself directly in order to promote electreification, as many manufacturers are already involved with Formula E or ETCR. During DTM era, Alfa Romeo had few models (155,164, 33 and the 75) but – meanwhile – were not easy times, while today their catalogue includes excellent cars, loved by all. The icing on the cake would be to see a compact model, let’s say a new Giulietta, to be engaged in racing. The Giulietta we know has run its course. I hope the ETCR can be as a tow for an official return of Alfa Romeo in motorsport, that is its natural element “.
Actually it’s difficult to think of a second era of Alfa Romeo in motorsport, if we consider the first as the DTM golden years in the early 90s?
“I would say it is a real utopia, like hoping to see Lancia again in rallies. They are different eras, moments that we remember with great pleasure but are unrepeatable situations. However, we try to do our best and we are grateful to Romeo Ferraris for involving us in this project.”
In your opinion, as claimed by leading names in motorsport, will both Formula and GT/Touring cars one day come together in one full electric series?
“In my opinion, no, it is unthinkable. Rather, we should keep the two categories “alive”, because they are two parallel worlds that can live together, even with an half-way technology as is the hybrid. I’m not one of those who wants to see classic engine die like the diesel technology in the latest years for any true reason. Let’s remember what Audi and Peugeot did at Le Mans, raising the innovation for these engines to levels unthinkable just few years earlier, both in terms of power and efficiency. Both full-electric and hybrid technologies are welcome in motorsport but, in my opinion, there are clear marketing reasons that push the manufacturers to use this “middle ground” for greater visibility towards the product. Honestly, the performance of the hybrid in racing makes sense in endurance events, much less in sprint races with touring cars; the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) is going in this direction but, right now, we think of a device of limited cost that can allow the cars to drive through the pit-lane in electric mode or use the surplus of energy for a possible push to pass. But we are talking about 2022, maybe… “.
Marco Calovolo’s thought is clear : “Honestly, it doesn’t make sense to say: let’s just go electric. The system is not ready, both for the series and for competitions. ETCR must not kill WTCR.”
We want end the interview with another topic: the virtual races and simulation. About these, Hexathron Racing Systems provides different services on a professional level both as engineering and for drivers and teams. Especially after Coronavirus, will there be an eSports escalation?
“Absolutely yes, there will be a software development but, at least for what we are responsible for, we will focus more and more on the definition of the set-up with extremely detailed operations that will allow, among other things, the creation of Virtual Race Engineer, a new job figure that didn’t exist before. Looking at the names involved in eSports it’s easy to understand the overall level, which I honestly would not have thought. They have an incredible concentration level, a deep focus into the simulation. I have been surprised also by how the top teams work for the race, both virtual or real ones which have also a line-up in the eSports. In cooperation with Ebimotors, we recently took part in the 12H Monza by 24H Series Creventic: we have dedicated many hours for the preparation but sadly we have understood that it was not enough, these races require more time and resources to be on top, but for us it has been very useful to have a benchmark. Let me say, these new figures that are being born will then be the ones that will make the difference. Moving from one software to another, you already notice greater / lesser sensitivity of some parameters such as the ride height, for example. The idea of Hexathron Racing Systems is therefore to carry on both the real world of racing and the virtual world, because hardware and software are every day more realistic, and this mean you have to manage the virtual car like a real one. Also from this point of view, we are ready to offer our support to virtual teams and simdrivers for set-up development, driving performance analysis and much more”.
Is the simulation “ready” to marry the electric? Are you studying anything for ETCR before the real debut in 2021?
“We are working to have something virtual before going on track with the real car. It would be excellent to create a model, compare it with the numbers that have been communicated to us and validate everything once we get out on the track. The biggest challenge is about tyres, because – as already said – are almost unknown in all aspects, and this makes hard to build a precise math model of the Giulia ETCR. In add, no final informations about race format leave us with a big question mark.”.