It’s Brooklyn. It’s July. It’s “hot town, summer in the city.”
- Bob Devol
- Formula E
Traditionally, that’s the cue for many city dwellers to escape to the Hamptons on Long Island, the Jersey Shore or Coney Island. But this July 15-16 there’s a good reason to enjoy a weekend on Brooklyn’s East River waterfront. At the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, practically in the shadow of the downtown Manhattan skyline, history will happen: winged and wild electric racers will be jousting on a custom-built street circuit on the waterfront. This will be the first auto race in the City of New York since the start of the New York to Paris Great Race of 1908.
It’s Rounds Nine and Ten of the international FIA Formula E Championship series that’s turning the staid streets of iconic cities around the world into roiling racetracks.
Now in its third season, Formula E has steadily grown to become a force in international racing.
What makes Formula E different?
First, of course, is the all-electric power. Each open-wheel Formula E (FE) racecar is powered by an electric motor producing approximately 250 HP. Currently, the battery produces enough power for 30 minutes of a one-hour Formula E race. At the 30-minute mark, all drivers head into the pits and swap to a second car with a fresh battery to finish the event. In the near future, Formula E will be getting a new battery pack with twice the capacity to go the full 60 minutes with one car, one battery.
This will be the first auto race in the City of New York since the start of the New York to Paris Great Race of 1908.
Another difference is the unique fan experience. FE fans are up close and personal to the on-track action, even to the point of having their own enthusiasm actually power the cars. With innovative FanBoost, Formula E fans can vote for their favorite drivers on social media up until just before the green flag flies. The three highest vote-getting drivers receive an additional boost of power they can deploy at key times during the race.
There is also a vigorous social media component with frequent reports and even 360-degree in-car cockpit video available to fans at the event and around the world. To further immerse fans in the action, all driver-to-pit radio communication is on scanner-accessible radio channels.
All of which creates an immersive, family-oriented atmosphere at FE events. This is something that hasn’t escaped the notice of Formula E drivers like Andretti Autosport’s Robin Frijns, who remarked, “It’s great to see there’s more interest coming in Formula E. Because of the low sound, there are a lot of people coming with the whole family.”
Daring meets data.
In traditional racing like Formula 1, billions of bits of real time racecar data are streamed to the pit and armies of tech specialists at race teams’ headquarters halfway around the globe. What’s new in FE is that the driver is now intimately involved in the technical management of the car during the race. Said Andretti Autosport’s co-principal Roger Griffiths, “In Formula E they’ve taken the approach that they need much more driver engagement. We rely on the driver perhaps more than other racing series to feed us back information in real- time. The driver is our data stream, if you like, through voice communication.”
That’s a big change for drivers like Andretti Autosport’s Antonio Felix Da Costa and Robin Frijns. Regarding the key differences between traditional racing and FE, Robin notes that, “A lot of thinking and a lot of strategy is going on. It’s not a big deal with the driving, but it is with maintaining the race pace with the re-gen and all the stuff you have to do by yourself. So there’s a lot of talking going on (between driver and the pit) during the race.”
Welcome to the ReGen-eration.
“Re-gen” – that’s a term that is becoming more and more familiar to BMW electric and hybrid car owners. In electrified racing, it can be the difference between winning and losing.
In all fully electric cars and hybrids regenerative braking, or re-gen, takes advantage of an electric motor’s alternate ego – a generator. When an electric motor is not actually driving the car forward, and a “load” (in this case the car’s rotating wheels when braking) is placed on it, the motor transforms into a generator that boosts braking while, at the same instant, producing electricity that is charged back into the battery. Yes – that’s free energy!
The new generation of FE fans should keep re-gen in mind when watching an FE race, because strategic re-gen management by the driver is critical to winning. This is in addition to carefully considering how much battery power is available, as well as battery temperature, to maintain race pace and pass other cars. “We have to feel more and kind of take our own approach,” said Robin. “To pass other cars, we need to prepare for it,” Robin adds. That means drivers often plan a pass as much as three laps before making the move.
BMW joins the action.
Electrification is becoming vital to the automobile’s sustainable future. Even so, nobody said that saving the planet has to be boring. So it’s no surprise that Formula E has attracted the participation of some of the world’s leading auto manufacturers like Audi, Renault, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and now BMW.
During the 2017 racing season, BMW engineers are embedded with the Andretti Autosport Formula E team. This year it’s to learn as much as possible. “This is a fact-finding exercise with an end-game,” said Roger Griffiths.
That “end game” is for BMW’s engineers to learn all they can about electric racing with an eye toward possible deeper competition involvement and to discover racing technologies with potential to improve BMW’s electric and hybrid road cars. Meanwhile, for the 2017 season, each FE race is paced by a BMW i8 high-performance electric hybrid sports car.
See you in Brooklyn July 15-16?
The FIA Formula E Qualcomm New York City ePrix will be held in Brooklyn this July 15 and 16. It will be a unique double-header event featuring two full FIA Formula E Series races, one each day. As a bonus, fans will be treated to something completely different: a robo-race between autonomous, driver-less racecars.
You’ll witness an amazing race. Not to mention the future.