2021 is set to be a very exciting year for electric motorsport and the Electric Racing Academy Championship is no exception to this. We chatted to sporting director Beth Lily Georgiou to find out more.
“The idea is that ERA will be the first step a young driver would take in electric single seaters, possibly out of karting or out of a combustion series they were racing in,” Beth explains. “The main goal is for it to be very accessible in terms of cost and in terms of location.”
Originally planned to begin in 2020, this has unfortunately been pushed back to next year due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although luckily, as the championship is based in Belgium, they were able return to the workshop in May.
“We have spent the entire summer using our development car testing all sorts of set ups and getting loads and loads of data,” Beth says. Despite the negative effects of COVID-19, the championship has managed to come a long way in their research.
“The main message we want our tiny little fanbase to know is that COVID hasn’t killed ERA,” she says. “We’re planning a relaunch pretty soon to announce our 2021 plans, so we’ll be even stronger.”
The ERA has two classes and both will be on track at the same time but the plan is that in the future they will eventually become separate championships.
“The sports class is standard spec racing where a team will have a car that is an off the shelf drive as we build it,” Beth says. “They can’t make any big technical changes, they can just do things like set up changes like you have in other formula series.”
The innovation class is open to more to new technology, teams can just have a rolling chassi or use some of the championship’s spec parts and swap others out with their own. This class has received quite a lot of interest from industry and university partnerships. This brings the cost down for potential drivers as it is something that a company could purchase as part of their research and development; or a university as part of their curriculum.
“We strongly advise teams to start off with the spec cars and then develop it themselves. So we are trying to ease them into it gently!” Beth says.
Taking place on race circuits, the race format will consist of two sprint races, qualifying and practice sessions. Each race weekend will have two races with each race being twenty three minutes and a lap.
“Our first series is starting next August in northern Europe. It will be a regional series and even if we add further championships it will not be an international series because this obviously adds cost for the teams,” Beth says. “So we see it as being various regional championships rather than one big global solution.”
Aiming to be as accessible as possible to fans, they will be streaming all their races for free.
“We’re an entry level championship so we’re not expecting a huge global following,” she says. “We want to engage with young engineers, young drivers - we want to engage very much with millennial and GEN Z audiences.”
Increasing diversity in motorsport needs a lot of focus on karting, so we can ensure that young people from a wide range of backgrounds are getting the opportunity to drive from the beginning. While this is important, ERA recognises that diversity in the paddock isn’t just about the drivers, it’s about all the roles.
“One of the things we do, not only to increase diversity and show people what’s possible in motorsport is to encourage young people to take STEM subjects,” Beth tells us.
The ERA Cup Programme allows school pupils from age 14 to design, build and race a kit car, which is a 100% electric vehicle. This will allow pupils a hands on way to use the knowledge they have gained through STEM subjects.
“It’s not really the race that’s important - it is about the building and engineering,” Beth says. “So we are using that to get kids enthused and some of those races will happen in our paddock alongside the championship. We want to kind of breed our own future engineers and future drivers!”
The ERA’s biggest challenge has been keeping the cost of the championship affordable. If the entry cost is kept low, there will be more focus on the talent of the drivers themselves.
“The prices are still high but we are not more expensive than the equivalent series in combustion cars for example,” Beth says. “Typically with electric cars there can be costs that people attribute to it and it can be seen as being too expensive so we’ve made sure to keep that down.”
ERA has a lot of drivers approaching them as they would like to drive in the series and the championship is helping them find sponsorship so they can be matched to one of the teams. There are also a number of sponsorship possibilities that are an option due to the electric element of the championship.
“There are so many brands that wouldn’t touch motorsport because of the negative connotations of driving a combustion car and there is a lot of untapped sponsorship and funding money you can have if you’re racing electric,” Beth says. “There are a lot of funding opportunities available and that brings through the talent. We know that the talent is diverse, it’s just the opportunities that are not. Get the talent in the cars and we should start to see a more diverse grid.”
A new career route?
Interest in ERA has come from many young drivers, whose career goals are possibly no longer to race in F1 as they see the future as electric.
“Young people are now really excited about an electric future and maybe their dream is to compete in something like Formula E or Projekt E or even Extreme E,” Beth says.
This passion extends outside of motorsport, for example with the Fridays for Future initiative. Young people are attempting to make change to help with the fight against the Climate Crisis.
“There is a global shift happening and that’s going to create ways in loads of industries,” she says. “We need young people coming through and shaking up motorsport. And that’s definitely happening and we’re seeing some really strong voices. A career ladder in electric motorsport is vital and we’re hoping to at least bridge the first step in a formula car in that sense.”
Representation and Responsibility
To feel represented in this sport, it is important for people to see people like them in roles they are interested in. ERA is committed to taking responsibility as an organisation to make the championship as diverse as it can be.
“The lower down we make changes and the more that we show people it is an option, it becomes more accessible,” Beth says. “Not just with driving but engineering, for PR - we need to focus on all the jobs around motorsport.
“We have a duty as motorsport professionals to ensure we are not overlooking people for whatever reason and that we are giving everyone a fair and equal chance to participate in it.”
There is a lot to look out for with ERA so keep your eyes peeled over the next few months.