Car racing is exciting. There’s noise and smoke and speed, the thrill of competition and the agony of defeat.
But racing fans hate change. Some Formula One diehards still pine for the V10-era, which ended in 2005, even though modern F1 cars are faster than ever. Now, we’re on the verge of the biggest change ever: the end of the internal combustion engine.
Have no fear. Our electric racing future is going to be awesome.
In early November, I took a ride in a 1,400-horsepower drift car. We went sideways. There was smoke. There was noise. There was giddy laughter. It was incredibly exciting. It put no doubt in my mind that electric racing can deliver thrills and entertainment. And it makes me wonder what the heck the clever race engineers are going to come up with next.
First, the car. It’s called the Mustang Mach-E 1400. A collaboration between Ford Performance and RTR (a racing team founded by 2020 Formula Drift champion Vaughn Gittin Jr.) it has seven electric motors.
Most electric cars are content with one or two, while a few (like the Rivian R1T) have as many as four. The Mach-E 1400 has three attached to the front differential and four attached to the rear. A single driveshaft connects the motors to the diffs, which means the car can be adjusted (by swapping out the differential gearing) for different setups. The Mustang Mach-E 1400 can race around a track at 160 mph, or it can be geared for drifting and maximum wheelspin and a maximum speed of 97 mph.
It can be set up for rear-, all-, or front-wheel drive. Power delivery can be adjusted between front and rear, and the steering rack and front control arms can be swapped if you want to go from drifting to racing and back again. It’s not exactly flipping a switch, but this car is theoretically built for anything. There’s even a hydraulic handbrake in the cab to help with drifting, and when activated it automatically turns off the rear electric motors so the handbrake isn’t fighting the instant torque of the EV drivetrain.
The most interesting part of the car, aside from the smoke pouring from the tires, is the sound. RTR and Ford enlisted the rapper T-Pain to help design an exterior sound that spectators could hear. In a regular electric car, like the standard Ford Mustang Mach-E, artificial engine noise is pumped into the cab. At the same time, electric cars are required to make an external noise while traveling at slow speeds so vision-impaired folks know a car is around.
“It needs to be exciting,” Gittin Jr. told Inverse in an interview after my drifting ride-along. “That’s the biggest thing people talk about.” It’s all about the experience, he emphasized. He’s there to put on a show.
The Mach-E 1400 has a pair of external speakers, one up-front and one in the back, that can blast sound loud enough for spectators to hear. This is a car designed to put on a show, visually and aurally. Gittin isn’t worried about people complaining that the sound doesn’t come from explosions in an engine.
“Our brains know video games aren’t real,” he says. “But I can go drive a virtual race car and still get my heart rate going.”
Based on my observations of the enthusiastic crowd watching the Mach-E 1400 slide around, he’s absolutely right.
The Mustang Mach-E 1400 is simply a one-off demonstrator, the result of 10,000 hours of work between Ford and RTR. Gittin’s company sells a wide variety of aftermarket performance parts for Ford vehicles with wild cars like the 1400 acting as terrific advertising.
A perusal of RTR’s wares doesn’t show any EV add-ons, yet. And a walk around the SEMA floor, a wild experience filled with jaw-dropping customized vehicles that make Fast and the Furious look like child’s play, shows just a handful of electric cars.
But I did see a lot of Ford F-150 pickups in attendance, and next year we’ll see the launch of the Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck. And this year, Ford released an electric crate engine pulled from the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT that makes 281 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. It’s already sold out.
Next year, expect SEMA to look and sound very different, and with maybe a little less exhaust in the air to boot. There’ll still be massive amounts of tire smoke wafting around though. Shredding rubber isn’t going anywhere.
Correction: A prior version of this article misstated the horsepower and torque in Ford’s new electric crate engine.
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