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

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