Catching Up With: James Barclay, Team Director of the Panasonic Jaguar Formula E Team

South African answers a few questions ahead of the 2018 season finale

James Barclay, a 40-year-old South African, raced at a national level in the UK with Vauxhall and Lotus, but has also spent many years in press and marketing world, including as communications director for Bentley’s LeMans and GT3 programs. In 2015, he was appointed to run the Jaguar racing team.

The automaker’s racing effort was last seen with its tail between its legs following the 2004 F1 season, which, like the four before it, did not go well, resulting in its abandonment. But now Jaguar returns, fully committed, it says, to the all-electric format, Formula E. The team is entering its second year and Jaguar recently announced the new I-Pace eTrophy as a support series.

We caught up with Barclay while he was in New York ahead of the city’s upcoming Formula E race.

Automobile Magazine: So you’re back.

James Barclay: Jaguar announced its return to racing in 2015 but actually started formally in 2016 with our team Panasonic Jaguar Racing. Formula E has been our main motorsport activity.

The timing couldn’t have better as we moved toward electrification with our first electric car on the market, the Jaguar I-Pace. Now we’re really also excited to announce with the reveal of the I-Pace in its production form, that we’re actually gonna take the I-Pace racing and be the first manufacturer to have a factory electric racing car. We have our Formula E racecar, which is a prototype single-seater. But we are actually the first manufacturer to produce our own production-based, factory electric racing car with the I-Pace, so I think two real firsts and something we are very excited about.

AM: What modifications were made to the I-Pace for racing?

JB: As a base car, the I-Pace is actually very well suited to be a racing application. We carried over the production 90-kilowatt-hour motor. It’s very neatly packaged in the floor, a skateboard design that is very good because it has a very low center of gravity, which the racecar has as well. We use the same e-motors as the production car in the front and rear axles. The racecar is also all-wheel-drive, produces 395 hp, so performance wise, the powertrain is actually more than up to the task.

Then you can imagine the specific race things that we change. We have dedicated racing brakes. We swap out the suspension system for a coil and damper system—very high end racing equipment for the kind of rigors of a race environment and race situation such as the curb strikes and all of that type of thing. We also have specifically dedicated safety devices, FIA specification roll cage and safety systems. And we work very closely with FIA to create the car because, again, they didn’t have a rule for a production factory electric racing car. So we’ve helped FIA refine and define new rules for production of factory electric racing cars.

And then we have also interestingly used our software and control system from our Panasonic Jaguar Formula E team and the work we have done on that car. We’re actually using a carryover on some of those control systems and software from the racecar [to the I-Pace,) that is again the transfer of technology. We liked to kind of think about it as race to road to race.

AM: Are there any particular safety issues associated with a racecar that has battery power in the event of an accident?

JB: Like most combustion cars managing fuel, [batteries are] inherently dangerous, and you kind of take the right safety protocols and obviously when it comes to the I-Pace, as a production car it goes through a very rigorous and extensive crash testing procedure which gives us a fantastic basis to develop the race car off. But we have added a number of different things, like reinforcing the protective floor to the car, which helps with any strikes from underneath to protect the batteries and cells. The I-Pace battery pack has some specific safety features built into it which, again, are very good in terms of controlling and managing any issues; we’ve been able to come up with a very extensive safety regime for our production cars and it helps.

AM: What is the technology as regards to the battery in terms of making it safe for racing?

JB: In terms of the design of the battery, and around managing specific cells and the way the individual cells act if there is any run away. It just helps to control and manage and limit the effect of one cell triggering the next cell, so a lot of the way the battery pack is designed is to help isolate any specific cell issues without having a trigger effect to the others. Clever design helps minimize any issues.

One of the specific requirements we had working with FIA was to move the driver away from the side of the car, so we’ve actually moved the driver’s seat more to the center of the car, further away from the door. The steering column is moved; pedal box, too.

One of the nice things we have on the car are the new Michelin tires we’re using. We have one tire now which works in wet and dry conditions so we don’t traipse around the world [carrying tires.] It’s based on a Michelin Cup tire, a great high performance tire which works really well in all of those conditions.

AM: As electric racing develops more and there are different brands of electric cars running against each other, will you bump the power on the stock motor? Won’t there be an imperative to raise the power to make them even faster? What will you change to give your racecar more power? How amenable is the I-Pace to that sort of tweaking at some future date?

JB: This is only our second season in this sport. We came in at Season Three of [E-championship racing,] and we are in Season Four now. Last year was purely a learning experience for our new team and not competitive. To put it into context, it’s not like we had an existing motorsport team ready where we could just say “Right, we’re racing, we’re going to go and do Formula E now.” Jaguar had no motorsport team and we hadn’t had one in forever. You could even argue the past the Formula One years, [2000-2004] didn’t count because that wasn’t a factory, in-house project. That was with an outside party running it. Realistically, we hadn’t had a motorsport team in that way since probably even the Sixties.

So we literally had to re-establish that and it has been a fantastic experience for us all to kind of bring motorsport back to the brand.

Year one was really about learning the approach, learning and establishing the race tradition back up in the business that’s going racing, that’s building a team that operationally can deliver a race worthy performance against some world class opposition. We learned a lot last year that was incredibly valuable for us and we hit the ground running this year with the new car, the I-TYPE 2, so based on a lot of the learning from season one we built an all new powertrain for the car.

We lowered the centered of gravity, we reduced the weight and we lowered the weight limit last year so we’ve been able to focus on getting full weight limit and place balance where we need to in the car and lower that center of gravity which ultimately makes that powertrain more efficient as well.

AM: Do you foresee a time when electric race cars can run against petrol race cars?

JB: Absolutely. We would never say never. The reality is that racing is racing, and we are only in the fourth season of racing electric cars. You think how far the formula has come in four seasons. In season five, next year we will introduce the next generation to Formula E car. It increases the power 200 kilowatts in qualifying mode now to 250. The battery pack goes from 28 kilowatt-hours to 48 to 52 kilowatt-hours. So now the driver doesn’t change car in the race, and we’ll have one car for the driver where as right now we change cars after 25 minutes. We’ll have one car that can last the full race distance and it’s going faster. So it’s very rapidly evolving.

By the time you put the world’s engineering minds together and you’ve got Jaguar Racing, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, together, that’s just to name a few, you know one thing history has shown is that we will evolve very quickly. And I have no doubt that Formula E will be another case in point.

The performance of the electric cars on the road right now? It’s comparable if not faster than combustion cars. We are in a transitional and early phase of the [electric] technology but as it evolves I don’t see any reason why it won’t continue to evolve and really kind of push combustion cars on the racetrack as well.

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