Napoleon Motorsports Will Be The First Team To Give Formula DRIFT A Spark

First ever 100% electric motor powered Pro1 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship Presented by BlackVue Dash Cameras competition car. Welcome to the Napoleon Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 as depicted on the back of the Napoleon Motorsports Turnkey Industries transporter. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2019)

Napoleon Motorsports Will Be The First Team To Give Formula DRIFT A Spark

If Joe, Lynn, & Justin Napoleon with the fabrication assistance of Robert Quezada from Houston, Texas have their wishes come true, Napoleon Motorsports will be the first team to compete in the highest levels of Formula DRIFT with 100% electric power thus adding a spark to an already electrifying visual and sound display in motorsports and motor culture.

Napoleon Motorsports has at least a three generation family pursuit and affaire in motorsports and motor culture building cars and racing all forms of motor driven vehicle competition ranging from the dragstrip to circle dirt track and most recently road/street courses with the Trans Am Series Pirelli TA2 class with driver Shane Lewis.

The latest effort, which was spawned just about six months ago, was to create a car that could compete in the Formula DRIFT series. Enter the Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship Presented by BlackVue Dash Cameras – Round 1: Streets Of Long Beach April 5-6, 2019 driven by 2018 Formula DRIFT Pro2 champion, Travis Reeder. This is a serious response to a very serious challenge for the Formula DRIFT championship.

Joe Napoleon, Team owner and director of Napoleon Motorsports, describes some of the fabricated features in the converted engine to battery compartment during the Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach Media Day. The weight and displacement of the batteries are fabricated to emulate the center of gravity and weight of a V-8 engine. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2019)

In what was to be their first official competition, however, the City Of Long Beach Fire Department in a joint recommendation made with the Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach Friday morning, before Formula DRIFT’s first event of the 2019 season, that the Napoleon Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 could not compete due to a little known city ordinance, until Friday, that prohibits electric and gasoline-powered cars on a track at the same time. The City Of Long Beach Fire Department also came out to say that the fire safety crew will not have the adequate time to train in case there’s an emergency with the car.

Podcast Interview with Justin Napoleon

The most confusing aspect to all of this, is in the last minute timing of this recommendation since a history of electric-powered competition is widely known, the FIA Formula E raced here successfully for two years without incident and that both City Of Long Beach Fire Department and then Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach felt comfortable with their training at that time for those events.

One might think that Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship Presented by BlackVue Dash Cameras field of competitors may have pulled a political fast one since evidence would suggest, after a look at the Formula DRIFT website, that everyone knew the Napoleon Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 Formula DRIFT car was coming with two articles published – Napoleon Motorsports: Attacking 2019 PRO1 Formula Drift Series (December 18, 2018) & Napoleon Motorsports: New Champion Pilot for EL1 (March 12, 2019).

No one expected that the “spark” Napoleon Motorsport’s Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 – nicknamed “Freedom” – would be one in the form of a political, or process controversy … to say the least.

Pretty odd.

Official Response By Napoleon Motorsports via Facebook:

In response to a decision made by the city of Long Beach and Acura Long Beach Grand Prix that prevents the EL1 from competition; Travis reeder Will now be piloting his LS 240 for his FD Pro1 debut.

BEGIN
“We’ve initiated plan B and we will continue forward without fail. I appreciate all the love and support, I respect the decisions made.

This is an indication of education yet to be done… We will take our lessons learned, get ahead of the curve for approval and we look forward to fielding “Freedom” [EL1] in Orlando.” – Joe Napoleon, Chief Principal, Napoleon Motorsports
ENDS

With the Plan B gasoline-powered LS240, Travis Reeder ended up P14 out of a field of 32 drivers – 33 Points – 70 Points behind the Round 1 winner, Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis.

Travis Reeder stands beside his Napoleon Motorsports No. 77 Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 electric-powered Formula DRIFT car on display in downtown Long Beach. Image Credit: Napoleon Motorsports via Facebook (2019)

Justin Napoleon wrote in his email response – “Moving forward: as you’re aware we had Travis’ car as a back up car. He did an outstanding job in the competition. We will carry the back up car with us in the event the EL-1 can’t run for whatever reason. We will be in contact with the proper personnel at the next event (Orlando) ahead of time.

As for Napoleon Motorsports; this is only a minor setback and we will continue to push onward and upward as we look to be an innovative leader in EV Racing. As stated before; this is only the beginning for us. We’ve got some very creative ambitions beyond drifting that will come to fruition this year as the EL-1 proves to be a reckoning force. ”

Joe Napoleon, Team owner and director of Napoleon Motorsports, demonstrate the custom fabrication rear quarter panels used on the Camaro EL-1 for give during competition. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2019)

Napoleon Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 “Freedom” Formula DRIFT

The first questions one is confronted with are having to do with embracing new, un-traditional technology just as motorsports players have been doing since mobility solutions have been invented. Soon after WWII, folks would strap on a blower from a diesel engine to a gas-powered engine to see what improvements to drag strip speed & time race this would make.

With Electric-Powered engines, the first element one instantly understands is torque applied to the wheels with this torque being the high-level same from beginning to the end of the power band – this can not be said for gasoline-powered engines where a curve of torque is delivered – low at first, building to a sweet spot at a specific RPM, then dissipating the more RPM is applied.

Second, in normal travel mobility situations such as a transportation replacement alternative to gasoline-powered engines, the electric-power only lasts so long and then one has to invest a much longer time to re-charge the batteries than fill a tank with liquid – this is known as “Range Anxiety” – but as applied to Formula DRIFT not a problem due to the very short duration of each side-by-side competition session.

Round 1 of the 2019 Formula DRIFT Black Magic Pro Championship Presented by BlackVue Dash Cameras season was to be the grand debut for this evolution in power equipment available for drifting. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2019)

This excerpted and edited from Drift Life –

Electric Drifting – The Future?
By: Jos Roder – March 22nd, 2019

With the all but confirmed introduction of an electric drift car into Formula Drift for the 2019 season, it opens the discussion around the future of drifting and the role electric vehicles may play in it.

In December 2018, Formula Drift released a statement on behalf of Napoleon Motorsport about a sixth generation 2019 Chevrolet Camaro EL-1 the team was building that was described as “a revolutionary drift car” and “the first one of its kind in Formula Drift.”

Fast forward to early 2019 and the rumours became stronger. On the February 27th Maximum Driftcast podcast, Formula Drift Technical Manager Kevin Wells spoke about regulations ahead of an electric car joining the series. The latest video from Napoleon Motorsport included flashes of electricity as part of the graphics so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put everything together.

So unless there is a CIA level deception that has led everyone down the garden path, we will see an electric drift car competing in Formula Drift in 2019 and that Drift Life readers, is a fascinating prospect.

Why Electric?

“It’s inevitable!”

Electric cars didn’t fly down in the last shower and they aren’t going anywhere.  Tesla is now a household name, manufacturers are pouring millions into electric R&D, ‘ludicrous mode’ makes grown men giggle and Formula E (electric based open-wheel racing series) continues to build an audience and has growing support globally.

But electric drift car’s have already been made! Yes, companies around the world have already been experimenting with electric drift cars, like EV West and their Tesla powered E36.

The cockpit of the next evolution in Formula DRIFT competition. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2019)


To see an electric drift car in a top-level competition series however is a big step up. It was only a matter of time but the reality brings fundamental, technical and philosophical questions about the sport to the here and now. Some questions are being resolved through regulations but others can only be answered in competition and in the spectator stands.
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This brings us to what many see as in theory at least, a logical step into the world of electric motors.

Electric Motor Benefits:

Amazing torque characteristics

No gears to change – should be quick off the line

Handling characteristics  –  low battery and motor placement for 50-50 weight split and lower centre of gravity.

Reliability – once early issues ironed out, in theory, there are fewer things that can go wrong with the drivetrain.

Lowering overall vehicle weight

Electric Drift Car Commercial Benefits

Momentum is building and millions are being poured into R&D. Chevrolet recently displayed the eCOPO Concept Camaro, a car designed to run 9’s on the quarter through its two electric motors that produce a combined 800hp (and all the torques) and is no doubt a ploy designed to convince Chevrolet supporters that ‘electric’ can be cool.

For Napoleon Motorsport, choosing a new Camaro as their electric vehicle choice given Chevrolet’s recent moves could be strategic or simply coincidental. Funding a race program is a huge investment so with projects like eCOPO underway, perhaps Napoleon Motorsport feels doors could open for manufacturer support. At a minimum, an electric drift car is unique, so a new range of sponsorship avenues for the team could no doubt be opened. Strategically, this aspect of the program could prove to be a smart move.

Side note: electric cars are primarily about efficiency and environmental benefits….so the irony of introducing a smoke-inducing, tyre destroying electric drift car is not lost on us.

Downsides/Challenges and Unanswered Questions

From putting down its power too well off the line, lack of noise, through to handling advantages and reliability improvements, let’s rationally analyse some of the questions and thoughts that came up in our conversations on the matter.

Q: Can a silent drift car excite anyone?
For drift judges, a philosophical debate has to take place. The ‘sound’ of the car is not judged obviously, but it will be hard not to be fooled and remain impartial to what you are seeing compared another car that may have had an identical run, except with the screaming engine to compliment the run.

For spectators, the equation is pretty simple. Can you get excited by a silent drift car that only oozes tyre squeal? That is a really hard sell. A huge component of drifting is enjoying high revving engines, turbo’s and V8s’s as they power through a course so an electric car will be eerily underwhelming.

Q: How driveable are electric engine drift cars?
According to the EV West team and JehuGarcia, the light switch on and off feeling, plus the ramp on and off characteristics of the engine was quite hard to control in current specification. Is Napoleon Motorsport there yet? We don’t know.

Q: Will electric drift cars put down the power too well from the holeshot?
A cars ability to accelerate is dependant on a variety of factors, but primarily comes down to how much grip a tyre can produce on a given surface. The crazy 0-100 (0-60) times we see by Tesla’s are with AWD systems. A RWD based system would be absolutely slower. Overall, I think this would be a negligible difference.

Q: Will electric cars have a fundamental performance/handling advantage?
Overall vehicle weight, the centre of gravity and weight distribution are all considerations. The overall weight of a vehicle governs the tyre size a car can run, so even if the car was substantially lighter than a standard Camaro (which it probably is), tyre size will be reduced to negate the advantage in this area. Centre of gravity however is certainly an area a competition drift car could have an advantage in.
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The flexibility of battery placement (should it be allowed in technical regulations) can also ensure a perfect 50:50 weight distribution should that be the balance they are looking for.

Q: Will electric drift cars be perfectly reliable?
I’d suggest not initially, but with fewer components in play, that should prove to be a slight advantage in this area over the medium-term. It is worth noting a number of Formula Drift Pro cars are very reliable and most have backup parts to keep them in the game even with failures.

Q: Will electric drift cars create an arms race/fractures in the fabric of the sport?
This question only brings up more questions. If electric vehicles drift amazingly, are ultra reliable and gain momentum, will other teams be forced to spend into oblivion to keep up? Will there become a huge divide and traditionalists that mean electric cars are outlawed or become a separate series? Having electric drift cars upsetting the competition apple cart in such a severe way is probably hyperbole, but major controversy in motorsport is hardly a new concept so who knows! 

The business end of the Napoleon Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro EL-1. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2019)

The Bottom Line – We Fear Change
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Electric cars are part of our collective future whether we like it or not, so we should at least give them a chance in the sport and investigate if it will be a fit for drifting in the future.

So until the electric car competes a season, I’ll be watching on with an open mind and a tonne of popcorn. My bet is it will be an anti-climatic debut, but that is nearly to be expected of any new campaign in Formula Drift Pro category with a new build, let alone an electric variant, but I’m happy to be wrong!
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P.S Drift runs are so short, Range Anxiety shouldn’t be a thing!? Unless you have 5 re-runs in your Top 32 and you can’t swap out batteries?
[Reference Here]

After researching some articles reviewing the situation that placed “Freedom” on the sidelines had been published, the initial Napoleon Motorsports response was that the car was fabricated using all of the FIA Formula E safety aspects as a template and built to FIA regulations for EV race cars.

They were never made aware of this Long Beach City Ordinance, and apparently neither was the event producer, Formula DRIFT … or should that be the other way around?

Napoleon Motorsports just wishes to compete and will bring to every venue both racing platforms – “Freedom” &  LS240 – recognizing that there may be a learning curve at each and every event venue throughout the season.

So, we are all awaiting the first real “Freedom” run in a Pro division Formula DRIFT competition, bring the spark, and see where this technology application goes – so far, the equipment or the team hasn’t allowed the Camaro EL-1 to compete … in Long Beach, maybe it was the fear of change

… notes from The EDJE

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TAGS: electric drift car, Formula DRIFT, Napoleon Motorsport, Camaro EL-1, Freedom, City Of Long Beach, Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach, The EDJE

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