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Testing Jaguar's I-Pace in the harshest possible way

Jaguar's I-Pace proves that a high performance electric vehicle can be a ball on the racetrack

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"When you put down the power, it's really instant, you just feel it go, and that's very good from a performance perspective," says racing driver Simon Evans (above), the older brother of Formula E driver Mitch Evans.

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Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia

THIS might be the worst place on earth for an electric vehicle (EV), which is precisely why The Business Times is driving the Jaguar I-Pace at Sepang Circuit.

It's all fine if you have a purpose-built electric racecar whizzing around on a short street circuit in the city, like in Formula E. But Sepang Circuit is a full-sized racetrack that hosted Formula One races. It's long, wide, and requires big acceleration and sustained high speed. It's also very hot, and heat is a battery's worst enemy.

In other words, it's the polar opposite of the city, which is where EVs excel and where their quiet, electric revolution has begun to gain momentum.

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The fact that the I-Pace is a large sport utility vehicle (SUV) doesn't help either. Like other EVs, it's relatively heavy. It weighs 2.2-tonnes, around 400kg more than a gasoline SUV of comparable size and performance.

But if the cards are stacked against the I-Pace, it doesn't seem to care one bit. Electric motors don't need to bother with turbocharging or gears, so the I-Pace delivers its torque in a literally breathtaking punch.

"When you put down the power, it's really instant, you just feel it go, and that's very good from a performance perspective," says racing driver Simon Evans, who was present at the track.

Evans, the older brother of Formula E driver Mitch Evans, won the inaugural Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy race in Saudi Arabia last December. Every team runs a Jaguar I-Pace in the eTrophy series. Jaguar says it is the first production-based EV racing series in the world.

Electric power also delivers another unexpected benefit in this demanding environment: The heaviest part of an EV is the battery pack, and in the I-Pace it's mounted low, in the floor of the vehicle.

That translates into far better handling that one expects from a big SUV on the racetrack, and in that sense the I-Pace is a bit like a professional heavyweight boxer: it looks imposing and large, but is actually very quick on its feet.

The other surprise benefit was noise, or rather the lack of it. The I-Pace's 400hp allows it to almost reach its electronically limited maximum speed of 200km/h on Sepang's long straight, but with only wind and tyre noise and no scream of a loud engine, it's far less intimidating.

In the long run, that could translate to better driver concentration and less fatigue, not to mention that a circuit running only EVs would have no problem with noise pollution regulations, a key plus point for Formula E's street races.

Motorsports fans who do enjoy the sound and fury of normal racing cars might lament the relative silence, but given some circuits around the world are finding it increasingly difficult to meet noise regulations, electric motorsport is the clear way forward.

Evans, who has experience in Australia's raucous V8 Supercars series, says it's a trade-off, but one well worth the benefits.

"I do miss the V8 sound. But when you're out there driving, you don't quite think about it," he says. "And on the other hand, it's very nice being part of the development for the future of racing."

In other words cars like the I-Pace show that batteries don't herald the death of racing fun, but the sustainability of it.