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