Wednesday, July 18, 2018

New York City E-Prix - July 14, 2018


Formula E is a relatively new racing circuit sponsored by the FIA, the organization that governs Formula 1. The E stands for electric, as all cars in this class are electric-powered. For that reason, some consider Formula E to be the future of racing, though there is still a long way to go. Much like F1, Formula E conducts races around the world and they just finished their fourth season with two races in Brooklyn. Always on the lookout for new events, I headed over to catch the penultimate race of the season on Saturday afternoon.



With such big money behind it, Formula E is run quite professionally and was able to give fans options for getting to the track in the Red Hook, on the west side of Brooklyn. It is normally a bit of a pain to get to on transit, so shuttles were provided from a couple of subway stations, and the closest Citibike (New York's bike-share program) stand was manned, so there were always empty docks to leave the bike. I used Citibike to get from home to the G train at Court Square, rode about 25 minutes to Bergen station, and then biked from there to the track. Total time was about an hour, surprisingly efficient for a weekend. From there to entrance E4 was just a couple of minutes, though there were no signs to point the way, just the large entrance sign marking your arrival. A glance at the sponsors shows that this is no small-time event.



Immediately inside this entrance was the E-Village, a fan zone with merchandise stands, gaming centers, cars on display (above) and food trucks. It was a scorcher of a day and none of these places had any shade, but there were large fans spraying mist that cooled you down quickly, and you could pick up a small water bag (below), with refill stations scattered around the track. This turned out to be a necessity as there was little respite from the sun. Another helpful handout was the racing guide that listed every team and driver. Just like F1, each constructor has two drivers on their team, with 10 constructors in total. Some are famous brands such as Audi, Renault, and Jaguar, while others are only familiar to serious racing fans, such as Mahindra, Venturi, and Dragon.



I bought tickets from the official site, which had a 2-for-1 sale, so each seat was just $42.50. Unable to find anyone to join me, I sold the other one online for a small profit. My seat ended up being just by the start line, with a space between the fencing that allowed clear pictures.



There are two grandstands, each without about 15 rows of metal benches. I was in Seat 279 of Grandstand 1, which is near the far left if you are looking on a map; Seat 1 would be closer to Turn 5 if you happen to be visiting in 2019 or beyond. Grandstand 2 is right before Turn 5 and is quite a bit smaller.



Before the race started, I waited in the shade beneath the grandstand, which was about the only place to escape from the sun. The race was to start at 3:30, and an hour before they had the driver presentation. In F1, drivers are paraded around the track but here, they were kept in police vans and only came out to wave when announced, immediately disappearing back in the van. A weird way to showcase the talent that was really only visible to those watching on the big screens found throughout the venue.



With the driver presentation over, I went back to the shaded area to cool down a bit, returning to my seat a few minutes before the race. The start line is not the finish line here, nor near the pit area, so there was little to let us know that the race was about to start. All of a sudden there were cars on the grid and then boom, off they went. Sebastian Buemi (car 9 below) had the pole with Mitch Evans (#20) second. Evans's car failed immediately upon starting, but there were no major incidents on the first lap.



The cars are much quieter than in F1, so even this close and along the straightaway, you don't need ear protection. From my seat, I did not have a good view of the screens nor could I hear the announcer, so after about 20 laps, I moved down to get closer and also to check out the giant screen, making it easier to follow the happenings on the track.



On my way down, I stopped to take a picture through the spacing; that is Nelson Piquet of Panasonic Jaguar Racing below. Many former F1 drivers are in Formula E now, including Jean Eric Vergne, who was leading the points race while driving for Chinese constructor Techeetah.



The race was scheduled for 45 laps or 1 hour, with a single pit stop for the drivers to change cars. Yes, as the charge is not enough to complete the hundred or so kilometres, the drivers enter the pit and jump into another car. It is quite amusing to watch on the TV, as the driver must be belted in by a crewman. During the race, the TV feed shows the charge left on each car and there is some strategy involved with consumption of energy and efficiency, though exactly how that works is still unclear to me.



With about 10 laps left, Alex Lynn of DS Virgin Racing spun out coming out of Turn 5, and that resulted in a safety car that took up most of the remainder of the race. The winner was defending drivers champion Lucas Di Grassi followed by Daniel Abt (above), both of Audi Sport, with Buemi taking 3rd. Vergne finished fifth and clinched the driver's championship as challenger Sam Bird could only muster a ninth-place showing. Vergne is the fourth champion in four seasons (Piquet and Buemi won the first two years). The average speed is about 100 km/h, quite slow compared to F1, though there is more passing. Still, the cars need to be a lot faster before Formula E gains more prominence on the world racing stage.

Pit Walk

With the race over, I made my way to the pit area. Fans with grandstand seats were allowed to tour the pit after the race as long as they picked up a wristband from an information booth before the race, which I did.



After a brief wait, we were escorted onto the track (above) and then allowed to walk to the pit area, where all 10 constructors had their garages, which were really just tents as you can see below.



As there was another race the next day, every team was busy preparing their cars, which was quite interesting to watch. Front and rear wings were scattered about, almost begging to be stolen.



The Virgin team was working on Lynn's car, which had severe damage to the rear end after his crash.



Below is one of Bird's two cars; you can see the driver's 3-letter abbreviation (usually the first three letters of his last name) just behind the cockpit.



Fans were allowed to get very close to the cars, and even take as many pictures as they wanted. Below is the front wing of a Mahindra Racing car belonging to Nick Heidfeld...



...and the rear of his second car. Mahindra is an Indian constructor who finished fourth in the constructors' championship. Note that the number above is red, while below it is black; this is how the two cars are differentiated and there is no rule about which must be driven first in the race.



While I was wandering the area, newly crowned champion Vergne walked by.



Below are the two cars for his teammate, Andre Lotterer.



Nico Prost is one of the Renault drivers...



...while Buemi is the other. Cars were being moved around the paddock, which required fans to be on their toes the entire time.



The winning car of Di Grassi.



This experience was far more enjoyable than I expected and well worth the price of admission alone. If you want a similar experience in F1, expect to pay around $1,000 but in Formula E, it can be had for much less. Although the race itself was not particularly exciting, having a chance to get close to the cars and see the teams in action made it a very memorable day indeed.

Notes

The constructors' championship was won on the final day by Audi Sport, who beat Techeetah by just 2 points. Vergne won the race, but Lotterer came in 9th, and when the Audi drivers finished 2-3, they took the title. This was their first after Renault e.dams had won the previous three.

When I got home, I watched a replay of the race on TV and that is where I noticed just how slow it appears. Sitting on the straightaway where the cars are going about 200km/h made it seem fast, but on TV, the speed doesn't translate well. Until they can improve this aspect of the race, its popularity will continue to lag that of the other racing circuits.



After the race, I ventured over to IKEA to meet my wife and kid. Along the way, I stopped in at Rocky Sullivan's, a bar that has the simplest menu I have seen. All available beers are posted on the wall with prices. No need to spend a few minutes perusing a beer list, which after nearly four hours in the sun, was just what I needed. If you ever get stuck at the Brooklyn IKEA, keep this place in mind for a break.

Next Up

I'm heading to Chicago next week for the Jays/White Sox series. Check back for a recap sometime in August.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, June 30, 2018

B.C. Lions 22 at Edmonton Eskimos 41 - June 29, 2018


After a short drive from Calgary up venerable Highway 2, I arrived in Edmonton for my second CFL game in as many nights. After dropping off my wife and baby at the hotel, I headed over to the stadium. For some reason, I had thought the game was at 7 and showed up an hour before, only to find few fans around. A quick glance at the ticket window showed my error, so I returned downtown to do a bit of shopping, getting back to the stadium just after 7.



The Eskimos play out of Commonwealth Stadium, built in 1978 for the Commonwealth Games. With a capacity of 56,302, it is the largest open-air stadium in Canada. It is easily accessible from downtown on the LRT, with the Stadium station just two stops away from Central; if you have a game ticket, the ride is free. From the station, the stadium is just a minute away; the picture below is taken from the platform.



Good seats were $61 so I thought I'd wait around at the ticket window to see if anyone had an extra, and eventually someone did, though he wanted to make sure that I would not sell it. I mentioned that I was in Calgary the night before to prove that I was not a scalper, and that convinced him. Free football!



I immediately made my way in and did the obligatory lap around.  As in Calgary, the stadium is set up with east and west stands, with the sun shining into the east stand at the start of the game. As my seat was on the east side, I was happy with the later start as the sun moved behind the west stands early in the second quarter.



Sections N-Z are on the east side, while A-M are in the shade. The upper deck uses the same section numbers and doesn't renumber the rows, so you can get as high as Row 84, which I have not seen anywhere else. One thing that I like is that the seats at the end of each row also have the section posted on them to reduce confusion.



There are seats in the north end zone but they are mostly covered with tarp, as are the end sections in the upper deck.



The south end zone has some group areas and suites, as well as some party areas with tables.



You can walk along the concourse here, though the party tables are blocked off so you can't take a picture from directly behind the goal posts.



The concourses are underneath the seating bowl and contain banners of past Eskimo greats. My Dad grew up in the area and often mentioned names such as Normie Kwong and Jackie Parker as players he followed and it was nice to see them honoured here.



There are smaller fixed concession stands along the concourses here with typical offerings, but you are better off visiting the larger concession areas that open up off the concourse, helpfully dubbed East Concession and West Concession. Here you will find a wider variety of food scattered throughout a number of different stands. Try the Green 'n' Gold Dog for a bit of local flavour; it comes with mac'n'cheese and bacon bits and is quite tasty.



The stadium has resisted the trend towards corporate naming, but when the Eskimos play, the venue is officially called The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium, after a large Canadian furniture store.



Going up high allows you to see two other venues: Northlands Coliseum, the former home of the Oilers...



...and Rogers Arena, to the right of downtown in the photo below.



As the stadium was built for track and field events, there is some distance between the stands and the field. The best seats are probably between rows 20-30 along the sidelines, but the view from up top is not bad either.



There is no distinct pattern to the seat colours here, but it does look quite different depending on the sun. The west side appears gold (above), while the east seems more yellow when the sun is shining on it.



The Grey Cup titles are shown along a glass display above the south end zone, including the 2015 title that I saw in Winnipeg.



Fans here were more sedate than those in Calgary, and a bit quieter without all the cowbells. I didn't see anyone here trying to get drunk like I did in Calgary, though that might be due to my seat location; at McMahon Stadium I was not in the good seats like I was here.



A final panorama shot from the top of the west stand. This is really a beautiful stadium that has aged very well in its 40 years and definitely worth a visit for any stadium traveler that wants to get to Edmonton in the summer.

The Game

The B.C. Lions, fresh off a bye week after winning their opener, were in town to take on the Eskimos who were 1-1. The Lions got the ball first and drove to the Edmonton 30, only to net just a single point on a missed field goal. When Edmonton QB Mike Reilly was intercepted on their first drive, the Lions promptly scored a touchdown. Then the ensuing kickoff was fumbled and the Lions again had excellent field position on the Eskimo 23, but they had to settle for a field goal to make it 11-0. The fans groaned noticeably as a blowout seemed likely, but the Lions were leaving plenty of points on the field.



After intentionally yielding a safety on a punt deep in their own zone, B.C. drove on their next possession and again only could come up with a field goal. On their next possession, the Lions reached the Edmonton 27, only to have the field goal attempt bounce off the upright. Instead of 28 or more points, B.C. had just 14 and, down only 12, the Eskimos realized that the game was by no means out of reach. They finally got their offense going late in the half when Mike Reilly found Natey Adjai with a 14-yard touchdown, and after B.C. punted, Reilly led another drive that culminated in another 14-yard touchdown, this time to Kenny Stafford. A two-point convert gave the Eskimos a 17-14 lead at the break.

The third quarter was all Edmonton as their defense held the Lions to just 8 plays from scrimmage while their offense added two more touchdowns. Though the convert on the first also hit the upright, another two-point try on the second made it 31-14. The Lions got one TD back early in the fourth on a QB sneak, but Edmonton matched that with a sneak of their own that put the game away. B.C. completed their exasperating evening with a punt single, while Edmonton added a field goal late to make the final 41-22.



A fun game to watch as the home team won handily after an early deficit. Glad to say that both home teams won on my brief foray in Alberta. Also note the 50/50 take-home amount on the scoreboard above: $103,972 - the West really enjoys gambling!

Notes

I spent the following week in Toronto and saw the Blue Jays split with the Mets. Having also seen the two games between those teams at home in Queens, I saw all home and away games in a baseball season series for the first time. This tidbit really wasn't worth a post of its own.

Next Up

I'll be attending a Formula E race in Brooklyn in mid-July, and then heading off to Chicago to see the Jays take on the White Sox in a weekend set. As always, recaps will be posted here, eventually.

Best,

Sean

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ottawa Redblacks 14 at Calgary Stampeders 24 - June 28, 2018


When the CFL schedule was released late last year, I immediately pegged an early-season weekend as a chance to add the three missing venues to my count, as Calgary, Edmonton, and Saskatchewan were all home on consecutive days in late June. However, as the date approached, I realized that flights between the three cities were not cheap as it was the Canada Day long weekend. So I changed the plan, flying to Calgary and driving to Edmonton, and leaving Saskatchewan for next time.



The first stop was McMahon Stadium, which has been the home of the Stampeders since 1960. It has hosted more than just football, as it was the Olympic Stadium in 1988, and site of the NHL's Heritage Classic in 2011. Located in the northwest corner of the city, it is easily accessible from the LRT's Banff Trail station, a short ride from downtown. After disembarking, just walk over a pedestrian bridge and there you are.



I was staying at a nearby hotel, so was able to walk over without the aid of public transit. I had picked up a ticket from StubHub, so did not need to visit the ticket office, but it is located right next to the southeast gate.



It is important to note directions when seeing a game at Calgary. The east side (Sections M-Z, above) is facing the setting sun, and being up north and far west, the sun sets quite late. For a 7 pm start, you can expect to be squinting until well past halftime if you forget your shades. The west side (A-L, below) is protected, but slightly cooler as a result.



Both sides are identical, with the best seats in red, single sections of blue seats on either side, and then benches that turn in slightly as they reach the end zone. There is a walkway above row 43, and benches above that, all the way up to row 61. There is not much space between the stands and the field as the stadium was built for football, and sightlines are good from anywhere.



You can see the blue seats seem a bit older and are quite similar to those in Toronto's Rogers Centre.



On both sides of the field, Stampeders Hall of Famers are displayed. Jeff Garcia started his career here in 1994, backing up Doug Flutie, and led the team to the Grey Cup in 1998.



The south end zone is where the main video board can be found, and there are no seats here. The Stampeders dressing room seems to be behind here and they run out onto the field through the tunnel you can see below.



The north side is home to the Telus Patio, a private area with field-level views. Seeing how far back you are from the end zone, I can't imagine this is a good place to actually watch the game. Above this is a handicapped seating area. Note the ballpark in the background - this is Foothills Stadium, which used to host the Calgary Cannons until they moved to Albuquerque for the 2003 season. I saw a game there back in the late 1980s; long before sports road trips were even a thing.



Next to the Telus Patio is a collection of pennants celebrating the Stampeders Grey Cups.



You can stand at the north end zone next to the handicapped area, though the view isn't very good, even from an elevated level.



Inside, the concourses are spacious enough, with a couple of ads helping you figure out where you are in relation to the field.



There are a few banners here as well, including one celebrating the aforementioned Jeff Garcia.



The Stampeders mascots include Quick Six, a white horse that matches the team logo and runs along the east side after a Stamps touchdown.



Finally, a shot of the east stand from the top of the west. Note the speaker at the very top; this is the public address system and can be heard from quite far away, including all the way over at my hotel.



CFL facilities are much simpler than their NFL counterparts, and I enjoy them for this reason. McMahon Stadium is no different and is certainly an enjoyable place to watch a football game. Fans are definitely into the game and their team, and cowbells are used frequently to celebrate any good play. If you are heading to Alberta in the summer or fall, check out the CFL schedule and if the Stampeders are home, drop by McMahon Stadium for some old-fashioned football.

The Game

Both teams came in undefeated, but that didn't mean much in Week 3, especially since Ottawa already had a bye. I picked up a seat in the second row at the goal line, a place I generally enjoy for NFL games. But the CFL field is much wider and action doesn't happen around the goal line as much, so I moved around for the second half. Below are the Redblacks warming up.



This was a defensive battle with Ottawa getting into Calgary territory a few times in the early going but unable to capitalize, leading to two field goals. After an interception deep in Redblack territory, the Stamps managed a touchdown on a pass from Bo Levi Mitchell to Eric Rogers and halftime came with the home team up 7-6.



Ottawa tied it midway through the third quarter on a punt single, but the Stamps regained the lead on a field goal, with the 10-7 score holding until the final frame. Ottawa opened the quarter with first and goal at the Calgary 4 but could not score, turning the ball over on downs. That was the turning point as Calgary moved the ball enough to get a punt safely away, and when Ottawa punted shortly thereafter, Terry Williams returned the ball to the Ottawa 37. Mitchell found Kamar Jorden a couple of plays later and it was 17-7 Calgary. On the ensuing possession, with rain falling, Ottawa fumbled and Calgary recovered on the Redblack 23. Three plays after that, Don Jackson ran it in from 6 yards out and Calgary had pretty much clinched the game with just 6 minutes left. Ottawa did add a touchdown late to make the final 24-14 in a battle that finished in a driving rain.

This was not a good game with each team punting 8 times, but that is what you can expect in the CFL, where 2-and-outs are common. Add in 7 total turnovers (including 3 on downs) and 20 penalties, and it was not a pretty affair. It also took over 3 hours, which surprised me as I thought CFL games would move more quickly than those south of the border. But there are just as many commercials to show in Canada, I guess.

Best,

Sean