Silicon carbide power electronics: racing vs. standard automotive


By: Nathan Moyal, Brett Sparkman, Amy Romero

Designed for Speed

The Jaguar I-TYPE 6 all-electric race car and a consumer road car are two vastly different machines. Personal vehicles are used for everyday driving including, but not limited to, commuting to work and running errands, operating in the 0-80 mph range.

Compare that with the Jaguar I-TYPE 6, which can reach 200 mph with an impressive 0-60 mph in 2.6 seconds. These pioneering all-electric race cars have been designed to compete at the pinnacle of electric racing, demonstrating performance, efficiency and sustainability, as they race wheel-to-wheel around city street circuits across 16 races for a world championship title.

While both road vehicles and electric race cars use the same silicon carbide components, designing silicon carbide into the Jaguar I-TYPE 6 requires a different mindset. Let’s look at some of the fascinating factors.

Fast Facts

  • Top speed (regulated): 320 km/h (200 mph)
  • Engine power: 350 kW
  • Battery: Battery cells consisting of sustainably sourced minerals
  • Front and rear powertrains: With 250 kW at the front and 350 kW at the rear, there is 600 kW total power potential from regenerative braking
  • Fast charging: 600 kW ultra-high-speed charging, almost 2X as fast as any commercially available charger
  • Tires: Tire compound with 26% natural rubber and recycled fibers, with tires being fully recycled after racing
  • Size: 5016 mm x 1700 mm x 1023 mm (16 ft 5 in x 5 ft 7 in x 3 ft 4 in) 
  • Mass: 854 kg (1883 lbs.) 
  • To Consider

    The silicon carbide technology inside the inverter is a key component of the electric motor drive. The inverter converts the direct current (DC) power provided by the battery into an alternating current (AC), which is used to spin the motor. Wolfspeed’s silicon carbide devices enable this to be performed more efficiently than standard silicon devices. Listed below are just some of the factors that make silicon carbide inverter design for EV racing so unique compared to personal automotive vehicles.

    • Duration and Reliability: In the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, parts for a race car need to last one homologation period versus the lifespan of an electric road car. Due to the competitive and performance-reliant nature of EV racing, we can push the car with much more intensity in areas that would normally reduce lifetime. For example, we can operate at higher gate voltages. Most automotive customers use external components to slow down the power modules, operating the motor gently. However, the racing team controls the power modules to reduce losses as much as possible, as efficiency is critical during races. This is possible due to the shorter lifetime requirements.

    Fun fact: The bodywork of the Jaguar I-TYPE 6 is made of linen and carbon fiber, of which some is recycled carbon from retired Gen2 cars.

    • Recording Real Track Data: Testing is performed both pre-season and pre-race to validate optimizations, as well as replaying recorded data after races to see what optimizations could be made on real track data. The team also uses measured data to improve their state-of-the-art simulator, wherein the drivers can essentially practice any of the race circuits under various weather, track and car variables.

    Fun fact: All Formula E drivers race in what is effectively the same physical car. From the battery packs and tires to the chassis itself, all teams get the same base car. This translates into a tightly fought race, since the powertrain, race strategy and driver skill, suspension set up, and power electronics are the primary differences.

    • Attack Mode: Formula E drivers must use an energy boost during the race. Attack Mode lets drivers get an extra 50kW of power, for a total of 350kW, for several minutes per race. This can enable a driver to execute a difficult overtake, play catch-up, defend against an overtake, or extend their lead. However, the high-power mode does consume more energy when driving at maximum power.

    Fun fact: Generally, activating Attack Mode involves driving off the racing line on a marked corner. This can often result in falling back a few places due to the non-optimal route if there is not enough of a gap for the next driver. Drivers have to take two Attack Modes per race (or suffer a penalty), but they have some options on how this is split up. The exact duration of Attack Mode is set in advance of a race. One possible scenario is if Attack Mode is a total duration of four minutes, the drivers have a split of one and three minutes, two minutes each, or three and one minutes.

    • Range: The total distance of a Formula E race varies depending on the track, but it is typically around 50 miles. Each car is equipped with a single battery that is required to last the entire race. In comparison, some roadgoing EVs have a range greater than 300 miles on a single charge. Formula E is targeted to require aggressive but efficient driving. All cars have the same battery, and the usable battery energy is limited depending on the circuit. The average useable energy is 38kWh across the season. This means that having a higher efficiency drivetrain can enable more aggressive driving due to energy savings during operation.

    A Dynamic Duo: Wolfspeed and Jaguar TCS Racing

    Winning in Formula E requires more than a powerful and efficient electric motor. It requires lighter materials, optimized battery utilization, driver skills, and a supportive team. Wolfspeed’s silicon carbide power modules used in the inverter are a key component in accelerating on track efficiency and performance.

    Wolfspeed is using the Jaguar I-TYPE 6 as a test bed to study the conditions that our parts can handle and how far we can push the technology. To accelerate our learning, we rely heavily on modelling and testing to help us predict device performance faster and more accurately. It’s an innovation lab on wheels, and it’s powered by Wolfspeed.

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