Mitch Evans – Full throttle, Zero emissions

Born in Auckland, Mitch Evans is a very talented, trophy winning, racing driver that is taking Formula-E by storm. He’s already driven the Jaguar to their first ever Formula-E Podium spot and has his heart set on taking out the Championship. We got to hear his thoughts on the future of Motorsport.

Hey Mitch, Welcome home. You’ve been busy.

Thanks, yes it’s been a roller-coaster ride but life is good right now. The last few years for me have been very tough. With GP2, I had some good success but also some really bad dark times. Then I got the opportunity with Formula-E and Jaguar, it was my first year and their first year, we had a really compromised car powertrain which they designed in 3 months which meant that we just weren’t competitive in the first season, we really struggled. It was to be expected but it doesn’t really ease the pain, you never want to be fighting towards the back, or ‘just getting the points’ being a good result.

Now we’ve come to the new season with a brand new powertrain, the team is really on it now, I’ve got some experience in the car, we seem to be rallying really close to the front, which gives me so much motivation and relief. It’s a good time to be in Formula-E, I’m super happy to be with Jaguar but also with Formula-E as a driver.

How was the move to Formula-E?

Initially it was a little bit different. Normally you jump from car to car, but this time it’s quite a big jump going from a combustion engine to full electric. A lot of it is very similar but some things are different are they’re really different. Just to get the most out of the technology is quite a fine art. The braking system is probably the most complex thing to get right from a driver’s technique and also an engineering point of view. The software is very sensitive and the car is very heavy, doesn’t produce much grip from the tyres and there’s no downforce and the circuits we race on are all street courses so not very grippy, so the cars are super tough to drive to be honest. Technically they are very in edge, physically no problem but there is no room for error on the circuits and the brakes, when you come from a normal combustion to Formula-E, Brakes performance is the biggest difference.

What about the Acceleration?

We all come from quite high HP cars, so the acceleration is about the same as GP2, 0-100kph in around 3 seconds. But it’s a little different because you put your foot down and there is a lot of power but there is not much noise coming from the motor. There’s more noise than from an EV road car but obviously not as extreme as in a V8 or F1.

What is the ‘quiet’ Jaguar like to drive?

Lose a little bit of sensation with the note difference and the lack of noise but you adapt to it quite quickly. But in terms of feeling the car, it’s a very low grip, it’s not as nimble as say a car that has a lot of downforce, big tyres, so you can’t throw them around and they stick to the ground. With this car you’ve got to be a lot more precise with it, you’ve got to play with it gently. There’s a lot of weight and no grip, so the Brakes are easy to get wrong.

Would this improve your petrol car driving?

The technique is quite different, when I began I was still finishing off my GP2 Championship  but since then I haven’t really driven any combustion car, and at the moment I’m not sure if I ever will. There’s no plans for it at the moment, I’m very focussed on Formula-E. I don’t think there will be any gain either way though to be honest, you’ve got to drive either type of machinery to its limits. But I won’t really know until I jump back into a petrol car.

What are your thoughts on electric engines?

I was definitely on the fence before starting Formula-E. When I first saw it start, season 1 four years ago, I was intrigued as my good friends (some very talented drivers) were involved. I saw that it was growing and growing and then I got the opportunity. But when I first got into Formula-E to now, the announcement of more manufacturers joining is exciting. It’s huge for the whole industry because no-one was expecting this a couple of years ago. I think it’s got a huge future, how big? I’m not sure, but all the ingredients are there for it to be huge – I wouldn’t say it will be as big as Formula 1 was in its pinnacle but it’s going to get to a pretty big level, because of the transition period at the moment from track cars to on the road. Once we see more fully electric cars on the road, and people see the transfer of technology between the two, people will understand it a bit more maybe. Personally for me, I’m super happy to be involved, hopefully I can have a good future here, earn a living from if for the rest of my life, it’s my main focus.

A lot of the other Championships are getting worse. This is the one championship that is growing through the roof and very quickly, so it’s very exciting to be part of.

Being an F1 champion was your main goal before, has this changed?

Realistically, F1 is probably not going to happen for me now.

What about Brendan Hartley?

That’s kind of a unique situation with Brendan. I know I’m more than capable (I drive against many drivers now), some of the GP3 Champions like myself and I’m able to beat them. It’s just so political to be able to get into a seat. With Brendan coming in, it’s been great for the country and great for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see Porsche becoming an engine supplier soon (to Formula-E). That’s maybe had an influence on his move?

There is a massive queue of drivers trying to get into Formula-E now. There’s not many Championships in the world now that you actually earn a living from properly. In Formula-E, everyone gets paid properly. With other Championships stopping, the market is brutal at the moment. So in Formula-E, every team can be choosy. They want drivers that fit their team, they have the ability to choose who they want, so the competition is enormous right now, so high and the depth of it is mental, so to get in is not easy right now.

I got in at a really good time, I don’t have the profile as some of the other drivers, I’ve got results to back me up, I had to do a shoot out to get into my seat, and I got my seat on complete merit, I did a good evaluation and since then, I’ve managed to deliver. Last year was tough but I still was able to prove that I can fight for a good result. Getting 3rd last weekend was great.  We knew we were going to be quick we just didn’t know exactly how quick and to be rallying for pole position, only missing it by half a 10th, and getting a podium in the end was amazing, first one for me and the team, hopefully the start of a good season.

Do you know where to find the extra time?

We’ve got work to do in the race pace and race performance but our 1 lap performance in qualifying seems strong (in Hong Kong). Over the race distance is a lot different. There’s different ways to get performance out of the car, it’s not complete flat out racing. So the guys are working hard to find different ways to give us that performance, not just for one lap but over the course of the whole race. I couldn’t do any more when I got 3rd in that race, I was literally on the limit every lap but certain things were holding me back and that’s stuff we need to work on. So hopefully it’s stuff we can change because in Formula-E you can’t touch the hardware you can only change the software, and hopefully within the restrictions we’re given we can modify the car to get some performance back over the race.

What do you think of the Championship?

Personally I think the racing is great. The action is very close because of the way the cars are designed. You don’t get any big aero wash, that means you can run closely to one another. The tracks are quite tight but do provide overtaking. All the drivers are very good operators so they know how to overtake well. There’s a bit of carnage. The racing side is fantastic, we’re all going hard but we’re also doing really creative moves, which you can’t see so much of now in F1 as there is so much dirty air behind each car. You can’t get close because you lose so much down force. With Formula-E, you don’t have so much, so you can run closer together which makes the racing more exciting.

My Dad’s gone to the racing and he seems to enjoy it. He comes from an old generation, he went with an open mind and completely sees where it’s heading. If you’ve gone to a race, for the public it’s quite enjoyable, there are a lot of activities with the technologies in the eVillage. I have no idea what it’s like in the Grandstand not having the sound there I can’t really comment, but if you can look aside of that, and see good racing, hard racing, some of the world’s best drivers going hard at it, apart from the sound there’s not much not to like. I’ve seen the races on TV and think the coverage is good personally.

It’s getting there, once all the manufacturers were confirmed, I think people understood that it’s getting serious. There are still a few people that are too proud to transfer over, which could be more about ignorance. Whether you like it or not, it is the future, especially on the road. I mean I race for a manufacturer, I know where it’s all heading. The reason why all the manufacturers are coming across is because it’s a testing bed for future of battery powered vehicles.

Do you have much input into Jaguar’s electric road cars?

The i-PACE was developed before but for future electric cars, this is going to be massive transfer of technology between the two. Because a lot of things are the same between the two industries, it’s such a new type of technology that both Formula-E and the industry itself are growing together. So there is a lot of technology and development transfer which F1 used to have but the F1 car is now so complex there is no relevance to the road any more. This is where Formula- E has got the market and the future. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, if you’d asked me a couple of years ago if I’d be driving a Formula-E or electric car, I’d be like are you crazy, of course not but the whole world is changing and you need to ride the wave with everyone else. That’s where it’s all heading and I’m happy to be part of it. I grew up with Petrol and combustion engines but those days are coming to an end.

They are using a lot of our feedback from the track. Jaguar technicians are running the show. So with the cars coming in the future, there is a transfer of the technology. And that’s super important for companies like Jaguar to be doing that. Motorsport is meant to be a testing bed for future technology and if the future is electric then Formula-E is the place to be for that.

Speaking of the Future, What about Autonomous racing, driverless racing cars?

I think once this comes in I’ll be finished. I personally think that’s a while away. They are already trying to start a championship called Roborace, that’s Autonomous. But personally I don’t know why people would want to watch it. If there’s no human element to it what’s the point?

So back to driver input, are there any down sides to the car?

They are very complex cars, much more work to do when driving.  A few F1 drivers have come in and struggled, initially. Lot of things to think about, say, the LMP1 car, I drove with the Porsche, a lot of that is done for you in the background, all the Hybrid stuff, the fuel saving, you just basically drive through the gears and use the brakes. It’s a complex car as well but many things are done for the driver.

With Formula-E, a lot of the control side of things is done by the driver. In qualifying mode you are just going flat out, you focus on your Brake performance and grip levels and everything is quite normal. But in the race you have different procedures going on with the steering wheel. Energy saving is obviously important and every team is different so I can’t say too much about it, (it’s sensitive information). Everyone has different ways of energy saving but for us, I’m doing 4 different things per EVERY corner on the wheel, so mentally it’s very draining. Also if you’ve got to change strategies during the race, the Circuits are tight and short, so you don’t have much time to do things. So mentally it’s very draining, physically fine but pretty testing mentally.

How is your range anxiety? Do you have much battery energy left?

We’re finishing on zero-per cent. If you’re saving too much energy you’re giving away lap time. I’ve got a lap target per lap that I have to hit. If I’m over that then I’ve got to try to get that back at some point. It’s like a Chess match. You use up a bit of energy to try and pass someone, then you’ve got to recover it back. Basically every race you finishing with zero energy left.

We race to kW. The car has a capacity of 33kW, but we race to about 28kW which means about 100k, so 50k per car. This is going to change next year; with the move to a 1 car system. Next season will be a whole new battery (it will probably do 100k’s on its own) and a whole new car. The battery will be going faster but double the range or maybe even more. From what I’ve been involved in for the past 18 months, development has gone crazy and it’s going to continue. You’ll see cars breaking speed records, and the range will keep getting better.

How do your fans feel about your move to EV’s? You have a lot of them.

Not as much as I’d like. Most of them are supportive wherever I choose to go or whatever I do which is great to have that support and loyalty, I know that there’s a few out there that have probably lost interest in me because of what I do, which is to be expected but I’m happy with where I am. I’m racing for a great car company and being paid to do it. The golden days of combustion engine are over, whether you like it or not they’re all finishing, within 10 years we’ll struggle to buy one, so you may as well just get used to it now. And when you see more of them on the road the relevance will start to sink in more. By 2020 every JLR car will come in a hybrid or fully battery power.

The future is big and it’s only going to get bigger. It’s not F1 level but I’m very happy.

Are the sponsors calling yet?

Not quite but I won’t be surprised when it does happen. It’s a very good image for any company to be involved. It’s environmental focussed and eco-friendly which is important.

What about Formula-E in NZ?

I’d support it. Auckland would be the perfect backdrop, it’s a 1 day … doesn’t disrupt the city too much. You need 1.5 to 3k of track, around the viaduct or winyard quarter and you’d be able to produce a cool little circuit, and I think that once people saw it, saw a Kiwi involved, and saw the entertainment for the city… I mean there’s no negativity for the city, there’s no emissions, there’s no noise…it would be good. I think next season you’ll see a race in Australia, so it could be good to get the council here involved.

Where is the next race?

Marrakech. So I’m heading back on the 2nd of January. Up to train on the simulators. But I’m happy to be here right now, looking at the sun and having a good family Kiwi Christmas.

Great to chat with you. Good luck in Marrakech and have a good Xmas.

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