The silent rise of the electric race series
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AFTER JUST TWO ACTIVE SEASONS, FORMULA E HAS WON ITS PLACE IN THE SUN
Just a few short years ago the mention of racing battery-driven electric cars immediately brought visions of radio-controlled little plastic things rushing around a living room or in some back yard.
I was my normal sceptical self when, in 2012, something called Formula E was announced.
It was to be a series of races for electric single-seaters, to be held in major cities around the world.
The series was doomed to failure and really would not attract either spectators in any great numbers or cities willing to close roads and build infrastructure. Then it was announced that the compulsory “pit stop” would be in order for the drivers to change into another car, as the batteries would not last an entire race!
Ridiculous, I thought, laughable in fact. I paid it no attention whatsoever. How wrong was I?
The FIA Formula E Championship 2016-17 calendar was recently announced, all approved by the FIA by “E” vote of course, with a 14-race season taking in 12 major cities.
The ongoing success of that series is now a fact and after just two active seasons, it looks to be headed for a brighter future than even the series organisers could have originally hoped for.
With events in major conurbations such as New York, Hong Kong, Paris and Mexico City, as well as the more glamorous Monaco and Las Vegas, Formula E makes waves and takes the sport to people who would not normally think of travelling to watch a motor race.
Crowds estimated at more than 60,000 over two days attended the London event in Battersea Park.
Alejandro Agag, a Spanish businessman and politician, has taken a concept that was originally mooted by FIA president Jean Todt as part of his mobility campaign, as well as to promote the electric car industry, to reality.
In September 2014, 20 of these all-electric single-seat, open-wheel racing cars formed up on the grid in Beijing for the first ever “ePrix”.
The technology used to create the battery power was developed by Williams Advanced Engineering, a sister company of the Williams Formula 1 team, and those lithium ion batteries give a 200kW peak power limit and maximum usable energy of 28kWh.
The 200kW relates to about 268bhp although in races the maximum power is restricted to 170kW, allowing the cars to accelerate from 0-100km/h in three seconds, with a maximum speed of 225km/h.
The batteries are designed to last an entire season with a range, depending on use, of about 30 mins in racing conditions, hence the required pit stop to change cars.
The format of the Formula is simple: to be the world’s leading digital sport, take the events to city centres around the world and use every electronic type of media possible to get the message across to young fans.
The racing is ecologically acceptable, relatively low in noise pollution with zero emissions.
Unlike Formula 1 the drivers, cars and paddock area are more accessible to fans.
By Formula 1 standards the cars are slow but in the confines of city streets, with cars equal in power and close combat racing, the impression of speed is just as great and with the drivers free from the constraints of maximum downforce they can slide the cars around corners and put on a show.
Formula E is all about fan-friendly entertainment mixed with the salutary message that one day we may all be driving cars that do not rely on fossil fuels.
There are still problems convincing some people, me included, that something that sounds like a turbo-charged sewing machine is a real race car, and that a race that has a pit stop at around half distance to change into a new car, is a genuine “motor” race.
But maybe those fossils among us should go the way of fossil fuels and fade gently and gracefully away.
Perhaps it is time that the almost forgotten Wellington street race is resurrected and added to the Formula E calendar?
Now there is a thought.