(In the September 7th edition of the Sustainable Motorsport Roundup I posted a video of a lap of Zolder aboard the all-electric ERA F110E race car. The driver in that video, Oz Maliphant graciously took the time to do a write-up of his experience for Motorsport Prospects. The lap took place in early September 2023. A big thank you to Karl Vanderkelen of the ERA Championship in providing the photos accompanying this article.)
This weekend was pretty special. After 2 years of chasing the championship’s tweets and linked in posts on social media, a chance meeting with the series directors. I then got involved as a volunteer on the project for the last year building a digital version of the car I was finally stood by the real car.
The car is a single seater Dome F110E, an FIA homologated chassis that is typically fitted with a Toms tuned Toyota 4 pot, making about 115kw of power, however this one is a bit more special. With an almost 30kwh battery pack, a 130kw motor and more tech than I know what to do with, and I work in tech! This will be one of the most raw experiences I’ve ever had on a race track.
As a sim racer and motorsport lover, I’ve done thousands of laps of Zolder in Assetto Corsa, even in this car that I modded into the game, but now I’m about to take out the real F110E at circuit Zolder for the first time. I am beyond excited.
“Ok Oz, jump in” says Max. My heart skips a beat and then races. As I step over the monocoque and settle down into the cozy cockpit I relax. This is my happy place. There is something so special about being strapped into a single-seater. My wife passes me my helmet and HANS device, I’ve never used a HANS device before, looking like a total amateur I struggle to put my HANS device on & pull my helmet down over my head. Max starts to strap me in. There is something deeply comforting in the tightness of the belts. I’m secured and ready. The head rest goes in last, then I’m told to turn on the 12v, connect the HV battery, I wait for the wheel to confirm all system checks are passed and then I engage drive.
Max signals for me to head out and I take my foot off the brake and apply a small amount of throttle. The input feels smooth and linear with the car gently rolling forward. As I leave the garage the undertray scrapes, the sunshine hits my face and I’m on full lock heading into the pit lane.
This is it. It feels oddly familiar and yet the bumps down the pit lane, vibrations and stones catching the slick tyres, pinging the side pod feels completely alien. The steering is not as heavy as I had feared, but heavier than my sim wheel and I test the brake pedal.
It’s got less travel than my rig at home, but the feel is incredible, as I leave the pit lane and accelerate for the first time, I roll onto the throttle and feel a wonderful push in my back as I accelerate towards turn 2. The wind whistling though the vents in my helmet feels incredibly refreshing. After all it is 30 degrees today.
T3 is a long full throttle corner in the sim so I open up the throttle and gently try to warm the front tyres with a little sawing at the wheel as I go through the corner, T4 I hit the brakes far too early, I was worried that cold brakes wouldn’t bite but there is far more retardation than I expect. I accelerate through t4 and on the long straight at the back of the paddock. Weaving to warm the tyres and pressing the brakes fairly hard to see if I can lock the wheels like I do in the sim. It seems I have far more grip than I am used to.
The chicane arrives and I instinctively brake, turn in and immediately get back on the throttle and up the hill under the bridge, turn 6 feels very familiar and I’m starting to notice the unusual vibrations and noises less and feel more and more at home with the situation I find myself in.
I bring the car to the left and brake in a straight line, turn the car in, right-left-right, taking it easy but lightly touching the larger flatter parts of the curbs. This car is so easy to place.
I keep the throttle pinned as I leave turn 7 and head down to the almost hairpin of turn 8. Feeling more confident i brake later than I think I should, and yet still manage to arrive at the corner far slower than the car is capable of. I roll back on to the throttle and take a little curb through the exit and on to the last straight. Now it’s just a question of where to brake into the final chicane. Again, I am trying and failing to calibrate my brain for the braking zone. I still manage to brake too early and gently roll the car into the final 2 turns, I get a nice clean exit and I pin the throttle ready to start exploring this car further. Lap one is done, no dramas and I almost immediately felt strangely at home with this crazy situation I find myself in. I can’t believe that a regular guy like me could be given such an amazing opportunity.
Sim racing, and specifically running a similar car around the same track definitely helped me acclimatize much faster and better than if I had never driven round this track before. It’s incredible that you can get so close to the real thing from the comfort of your own home.
Some tweaks I’m going to make to my sim rig include better pedal feedback and increasing the force feedback level on the wheel, but overall, it was an amazing tool to help me prepare for the real thing.
I’m Oz, I run a YouTube channel called The Sustainable Orange and you can find me on Twitter/X @sustainableoz.
The ERA Championship website can be found here: https://www.erachampionship.com/
And the ERA Race School website can be found here: https://eraracingschool.com/