Despite the critics and naysayers, Formula e is sticking around. Even better, it seems to like New York City, and for the second year in a row set up a course in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn for the final two races for Season 4. There was a little less hoopla this time around, and New Yorkers flocked in the heat (and, a first for Formula e – rain!) to the 2.373km track – even if my NY brethren are still unclear on how to properly walk over the track stairs.
Because of the huge emphasis on being Green, the series ran shuttle busses to two main subway stations to encourage people to take public transportation. The track for the electric race cars is set on the large parking lot of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, with the narrow cobblestone feeder streets blocked to traffic. The series attracts a curious mix of race fans, techie types, and curious people just looking for something interesting to do on the weekend.
The behind-the-scenes technology is fascinating. Formula e uses 18” Michelin tyres designed specifically for the series, and can be used in both dry and rain conditions. Unlike Indy Car or Formula 1, a good portion of the sponsors are tech companies that also partner with the teams. Speaking with Patrick Hurley, Vice President and General Manager of Acronis Americas, he told me that each team generated hundreds of gigs of valuable information each day. That information needs to be saved and protected on site. Acronis partners with the Renault e.dams team to store data ranging from simulations, video feeds, and telemetry.
Most importantly – there was racing. Earlier in the year at the New York International Auto Show, inaugural champion Nelson Piquet Jr. did donuts in the Panasonic Jaguar Racing formula a car, and he was back in New York for the season finale. Last year Formula 1 driver Sébastien Buemi couldn’t make the NY race, but this year ended up winning the Pole in New York driving for Renault e.dams.
Much to the delight of the drivers, the track was changed this year – longer, wider in spots, with more turns. The longer straight into Turn 7 and out of Turn 10 actually allowed for the chance to pass, making the race more competitive and exciting. “Formula e started something completely new so all the tracks were very conservative. All the Formula e tracks are becoming faster speeds, and longer straights, less chicanes, so for this year the chicane here is quicker, and the new part allows you to have a slightly longer straight, so that’s what we need. We need longer straights, we need a little bit more fast corners,” said Lucas di Grassi, “…if you make a track without overtaking points, for example Paris, it’s very difficult to overtake. Short straights with not really much space it becomes less of a race.”
Starting out in 11thposition, Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler),worked his way up over the race. It looked like the race would finish under a yellow flag after Alex Lynn crashed, but with about five minutes to go the course went green, and di Grassi took the checkered flag followed by teammate Daniel Abt and Sebastien Buemi.
After the champagne spray, Jean-Eric Vergne, TECHEETAH was crowned the season champion. “I can’t believe it – what a crazy race – god it feels good… I have waited the whole season for this. When I crossed the line I honestly didn’t know I had won. My engineer told me, ‘I guess we’ve done it,’, so I said, ‘what do you mean?’ Then Lotterer went past me and clapped, so I knew something was up. When I found out I was speechless. I enjoyed the race, but obviously, it was very tough. Some drivers were quite hard and overconsumed energy to try and not let m e by. It was actually really complicated, a real fight unlike in Zurich – today, the drivers were tougher!”
SATURDAY GALLERY (Sunday race results and gallery follows):
Sunday’s qualifying took place on a wet course after some morning rain – then the course was completely close as a thunderstorm blew through. Not the sort of electric we were looking for, but it passed over fairly quickly and the drivers headed out to the starting grid on time. TECHEETAH’s Jean-Eric Vergne crossed the finish line first, with Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi in second and third, respectively, and narrowly winning the team title over TECHEETAH.
The next season should prove to be the most interesting year for the series with the Gen 2 car. Using a new battery from McLaren Applied Technologies and Atieva will allow the drivers shed their range anxiety, running the entire race in the same car – no more car changes halfway through a 45-minute race. Season 5 starts in Saudi Arabia December, 2018.