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How Jaguar could have realised the I-PACE’s potential

As the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy championship came to an end in August this year, Senior Editor Bethonie Waring looks back into the pros and cons the different aspects of the series had along the way. 

It’s been about two years since Jaguar announced it was launching a new support series that would join Formula E for the 2018-19 season.

I had high hopes for this electric touring car championship. Touring cars and Formula E generally have one thing in common – wheel to wheel action. And with larger cars, this no doubt meant drivers could lean on one another more without a pesky front wing coming off.

It should have been an interesting championship that opened electric racing up to a new audience.

It did not.

After a season and a half, Jaguar confirmed there would not be a Jaguar I-PACE eTrophy season three. For many, this announcement came a season too late. The championship had none of Formula E’s action nor its big names. It barely had any names at all.

But I still hold out that it didn’t have to be this way. In fact, some of the races in Berlin actually proved the I-PACE could have been an interesting championship, with just a few key differences…

It’s easy to just say the series was doomed to fail, but there are lessons to be learned, and hopefully, someone else can come along and make something better soon.


The drivers

Caca Bueno and Sergio Jimenez are both fantastic touring car racers relatively well known in their home country. Bueno has five Brazilian Stock Car Championship titles to his name and podiums in series like Blancpain. Jimenez has had less success in stock cars, focusing on single-seater racing in his early years, but he has a handful of wins and there’s no doubting he can put in a solid performance on his day.

The rest of the grid didn’t meet this standard.

The eTrophy should have been targeting drivers like Bueno and Jimenez from other countries. A sort of electric touring car cup, putting the best touring car drivers from different countries on tracks they’ve never raced before.

BTCC drivers from the UK, DTM racers from Germany, NASCAR drivers from the US.

The issue of course is manufacturer affiliation with some of the top drivers and would need to be worked around. But I have no doubt it would be possible to find some drivers, even up and coming stars, to compete on a global stage.

So why didn’t they?

Firstly because there’s no incentive. The eTrophy was an unknown, not broadcast on any major channel in any country, and had no ties to seats in top-level touring car series. All that was available was personal glory, more racing, and another title. Sure, going up against some of the best drivers in your field from other series would have been exciting, but it didn’t compare to the cost in doing so.

And that’s the second part. The cost. I-PACE seats were pretty expensive. This would have to be the biggest thing that needed to change to make the championship interesting for drivers looking for something to do on their weekends off. Drastically cut the costs – or get rid of them entirely – and the lack of incentive besides “it’s something fun to do” doesn’t seem like such a big issue. If drivers aren’t losing anything by doing it, they’re more likely to give it a go.

And with one simple change, you’ve now got BTCC, DTM, and NASCAR audiences all tuning in to see how their driver does.

Having a few top drivers would have a ripple effect. Drivers still hoping to reach the top of their respective series are attracted because it puts eyes on them. Am drivers are interested because there are proven drivers they can learn from. The races are more interesting because there are more than three drivers who can genuinely win. Everybody wins.


Racing

Of course, putting decent drivers in the car doesn’t change the fundamental issues with the championship.

No overtaking happened.

It’s easy to assume no overtaking could happen. The cars were much bigger than Formula E cars and didn’t suit the street circuits. But even staging the last two seasons on actual race tracks wouldn’t have changed much. After qualifying, the only way positions changed more than a handful of places was if someone made a huge error or suffered damage.

But it didn’t have to be that way. We saw on the Super Saturday that races with overtaking could happen, if only the top drivers started at the back of the field. Reverse grids may not be the most popular suggestion among drivers, but something as simple as a second, sprint race with a grid made by reversing the race one results would have made for some exciting action as the drivers who ran away with the championship actually had to overtake people in order to get the results.

The second factor is one Jaguar already introduced, albeit a season too late. Attack Mode gave an interesting strategic element that actually shook up the order on a number of occasions. It meant one driver couldn’t just qualify well and do nothing more than not crash in order to win. The introduction of Attack Mode in season two made the year vastly more interesting than in season one, and should have come in earlier. By the time those interesting races happened, most people had already switched off.

Even without the fundamental changes to attract interesting drivers, if Jaguar had just run reverse grid races with Attack Mode from season one, there’s every chance the series would still exist.

There were good races in the I-PACE’s two seasons supporting Formula E and I genuinely believe it could have been something much better than it was. But hopefully the creators of Formula E’s next support series – whatever that is – thinks things through a little deeper, reflects on the I-PACE eTrophy, and brings us something interesting to watch.

 

Images courtesy of Jaguar Racing

Bethonie Waring

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