By Ryan Chatelain
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The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook will be transformed this weekend into a speedway featuring 20 cars buzzing around at up to 140 mph.
Formula E’s New York City ePrix will become the first auto races in modern history within the five boroughs.
Not familiar with Formula E? The series, which uses fully electric, single-seater cars, is only in its third season of existence.
The New York City ePrix will be a two-race event — one Saturday, one Sunday. It promises to be a picturesque scene, with the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty serving as a backdrop to the 1.2-mile waterfront track, which features 10 turns.
“We are driving the future, first of all, and then it’s going to be a really exciting race,” French driver Jean-Éric Vergne said. “We’ll be towards the end of the championship. Tension will be at the maximum.”
Formula E is sanctioned by FIA, the same governing body that runs Formula One. Of course, the electric aspect makes Formula E unique and packs a few quirks, most notably that drivers must switch to a second car halfway through the race — a feature that will vanish after next season due to technological advancements.
Unlike Formula One, Formula E races exclusively in large city centers — Paris, London, Hong Kong, to name a few.
“I enjoy the street tracks,” said Nelson Piquet Jr., the series’ champion in its inaugural season. “I enjoy racing in downtown areas because we’re always racing at new venues. Let’s choose New York, for example. New York has never had a race before, and it’s such an amazing place, an amazing capital of the world to have a race in — it’s never been done before. And it’s happened in several different places. In Hong Kong, in Beijing.”
New York is the only U.S. city Formula E will pass through this season. In 2014-15, it held races in Miami and Long Beach, California, and returned to Long Beach last year.
Alejandro Agag, Formula E’s CEO, has called the New York race a “turning point” for the fledgling series. Vergne and Piquet agree that their stop in the Big Apple will be special.
“All of the drivers are excited to come here and race,” Vergne said. “It’s a huge city for us, and I can’t wait.”
“I’m very excited,” said Piquet, a Brazilian who spent Christmases in New York when his sister lived here. “I think I’m mostly excited because everybody — friends of mine, family — is so pumped about this race. They think it’s going to be such an amazing place.”
Formula E prides itself on not only allowing fans to be close to the action, but also making its cars and drivers accessible to them.
“It’s really a friendly environment,” Vergne said. “People have easy access to the cars and to see the races. We go into the heart of the cities, so it’s easy for them to reach out to us. And it’s a championship that’s growing massively.”
Interest in the series is growing, from both fans and car manufacturers. For example, BMW announced this week it has signed on for Season 5. But Piquet said that Formula E still needs time to blossom.
“It’s such a new idea and racing form,” Piquet said. “It’s not going to happen from night to day that people are going to fall in love with it or start following. It’s not only that. We need to build a history. We need to build a story.”
As for the environmental aspects of Formula E, Vergne said its drivers are “making a huge statement so far that we can race electric cars so everyone can drive electric cars in the cities and reduce the pollution. It is a way to move forward.”
But he adds, “I’m not pretending that in Formula E that we’re here to save the world, but we’re here to offer a very nice spectacle and also try to send a positive signal to the world.”
Drivers To Watch
Formula E’s defending champion and this year’s frontrunner, Sebastien Buemi, won’t compete in New York because he’ll be racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship in Germany instead. But here are three other drivers who could very well end up in victory lane in Brooklyn.
Lucas di Grassi: The Brazilian has finished in the top three in five of the eight races this season, winning in Mexico City. He is currently second in the standings. Di Grassi raced in Formula One in 2010.
Felix Rosenqvist: The Swede is the only other driver besides Buemi and di Grassi to win this season, taking the checkered flag in Berlin last month. He’s currently third in the standings.
Nelson Piquet Jr.: The Brazilian, who is the son of three-time Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet, won the Formula E title in 2014-15, the series’ inaugural season. He raced in Formula One from 2008-09.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryanchatelain