Green and clean For­mula E draws huge crowds for New York debut

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

NEW YORK — The roar of the en­gine was re­placed by a fu­ri­ous whirring as the fu­ture of mo­tor­sports came to Brook­lyn on the week­end.

For­mula E took over part of the water­front neigh­bor­hood of Red Hook on Sun­day, draw­ing huge crowds on the sec­ond of two race days for the Qual­comm New York City ePrix.

The For­mula One-style, open-wheel cars reach speeds of 140 mph but only about 80 deci­bels, compared with 130 deci­bels for the cars with com­bus­tion engines.

In­stead of scream­ing down the straight like F1 cars, FE ve­hi­cles buzz like giant col­or­ful hum­ming­birds. And they run clean and green.

Sam Bird from the DS Vir­gin Rac­ing team won Sun­day’s 49-lap race over the nar­row 1.2-mile, 10-turn track from pole to sweep the week­end races for Bri­tish bil­lion­aire team owner Richard Bran­son.

The three-year-old FE se­ries is sanc­tioned by the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Au­to­mo­biles, F1’s gov­ern­ing body, mak­ing the New York City ePrix the first race run by a ma­jor mo­tor­sports or­ga­ni­za­tion in the five bor­oughs.

The street course was squeezed into an in­dus­trial area that has be­come more res­i­den­tial in re­cent years. Red Hook is known for its mi­cro­brew­eries, food trucks and shops where New York­ers can buy cheap fur­ni­ture for their ex­pen­sive apart­ments.

The track was right next to the Brook­lyn Cruise Ter­mi­nal, so the Statute of Lib­erty formed part of a dra­matic back­drop to the race.

Twenty driv­ers were in the start­ing grid with enough bat­tery power to make it through about 25 laps. They switch cars dur­ing the race and the key is en­ergy con­ser­va­tion. Driv­ers are care­ful not to lean too hard on the ac­cel­er­a­tor and can recharge the bat­tery when brak­ing.

“With it be­ing elec­tric, there’s no de­lay from when you put the throt­tle down to when it gets to the wheels,” said Mitch Evans of New Zealand, who drives for Pana­sonic Jaguar Rac­ing, a new team to the cir­cuit this year. “The en­ergy man­age­ment in the race is quite unique.”

New York is the penul­ti­mate stop in the nine-race For­mula E se­ries, with pre­vi­ous sites in­clud­ing Ber­lin, Monaco, Paris and Mex­ico City.

In two weeks, the se­ries fin­ishes in Montreal. Thou­sands at­tended the races in Brook­lyn, pack­ing two metal grand­stands over­look­ing the track on Sun­day. Not bad con­sid­er­ing Red Hook is not the eas­i­est neigh­bor­hood to reach by mass tran­sit and it’s no place to try to park a car.

Or­ga­niz­ers ran shut­tle buses from the Bar­clays Cen­ter, home of the Brook­lyn Nets and a ma­jor sub­way hub, to the race site about three miles away. There were also rideshare sta­tions, a bi­cy­cle valet and wa­ter taxis and fer­ries from Man­hat­tan.

Co­me­dian Trevor Noah of The Daily Show was among the VIPs who got to walk the track be­fore the race. The Hud­son Horns played Ste­vie Won­der’s Su­per­sti­tion as fans strolled across the black top as if it was a week­end street fair, mi­nus the food carts and fold­ing ta­bles full of home­made wares for sale.

At the Al­lianz Ex­plorer Zone, fans could check out BMW’s elec­tric au­to­mo­biles and Jaguars’ I-Pace Con­cept, an SUV that will be the com­pany’s first en­try into the elec­tric mar­ket.

While For­mula E as­pires to be a highly com­pet­i­tive cir­cuit, it is also a means by which au­tomak­ers can de­velop elec­tric tech­nol­ogy and show off what it can do.

“For us, what’s re­ally im­por­tant is this rep­re­sents the fu­ture,” said James Bar­clay, team di­rec­tor for Jaguar Pana­sonic.

“The car in­dus­try is mov­ing to­ward elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. We’re go­ing through a tran­si­tion pe­riod. It’s go­ing to take a num­ber of years, but what is quite clear is we do need to move away from com­bus­tion cars for the fu­ture.

“It’s about de­vel­op­ing and proving elec­tri­cal ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy on the race­track and ap­ply­ing that to make our road cars of the fu­ture.”

It is no co­in­ci­dence the se­ries has stopped in big cities, where ur­ban­ites see own­er­ship of tra­di­tional fos­sil fuel-pow­ered au­to­mo­biles that pol­lute the air as nonessen­tial.

“We go to places where cars are re­ally a prob­lem,” For­mula E CEO Ale­jan­dro Agag said ear­lier this week.

Jim Over­meyer, 62, made the trip from Is­lip on Long Is­land for the New York City ePrix. He said an elec­tric car wouldn’t work for him but maybe a hy­brid would.

He thought the tight course in Brook­lyn gave the ePrix a bit of a go-kart feel. And, of course, the sound takes some get­ting used to.

“It’s cer­tainly a lot qui­eter,” he said. “It’s bet­ter than what I thought. From what I’ve seen on TV, it sounds like a bunch of squir­rels be­ing tor­tured or some­thing like that.”

MICHAEL NOBLE JR. / AP

Bri­tain’s Sam Bird of SDD Vir­gin Rac­ing comes out of a turn dur­ing the For­mula E New York City ePrix on Sun­day. Bird won the race, con­tested over a Brook­lyn street cir­cuit, ahead of Mahin­dra Rac­ing duo Felix Rosen­qvist and Nick Hei­d­feld.

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