The air is filled with what sounds like big bottle rockets. A whistle, an audible launch and woosh.
You don’t need earplugs and you can talk to your neighbor.
I’m writing to you from beside the track of the 5th season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, or Formula E, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Mahindra, NIO, Nissan, and Porsche are whip-cracking and rat-tailing against each other with electric vehicles, all specially outfitted for the occasion with identical guts.
Each unit’s innards are equal to each other’s – limited to 200 kilowatts which, in carspeak, would be about 268 horsepower. Their top speed is a relatively tepid 140 MPH. (Nascar vehicles reach 200 MPH with 800 horsepower.) Each costs about a million dollars and they weigh 1,500 pounds. Half of that weight is battery weight.
Why is this important? Because those who manufacture electric vehicles for public use – and that means just about everyone who make cars – are pouring hundreds of millions into the technology in the hopes of being first to (mass) market. If you’re interested in knowing what your ride might be like in, say, 10 years, Formula E is the place to be, the place to talk to other enthusiasts, the place to watch and to learn.
Each race, too, is chaotic – the series has had eight different winners in the first eight races of this season. Drivers used to have to switch cars mid-race because their batteries couldn’t stay charged. Today, they’ll each race on just one battery due to dramatic improvements in the technology.
That’s part of what makes this exciting – it’s new, new, new, and if it grabs the public’s attention, it’ll transform, once again, the way we get around.
It’s a tremendous logistical undertaking as well – about 700 people took a week to build this track from virtually nothing at a cost to Formula E of approximately 10 to 15 million dollars.
Edoardo Mortara and Felipe Massa, part of the Ventura racing team sponsored by German parts manufacturer ZF and each of whom bring years of high-speed racing experience to the course, are racing today.
They spoke to a group of journalists the previous night in a small hotel room, both men sporting that bulge-eyed, hyper-alert look of track ninjas. Adrenaline was clearly running high as the hours ticked down to race time.
“Electric cars are part of our future and that future is coming closer every year,” said Massa. “Whereas combustible engines have a questionable future.”
“We already know we’re going to overheat the batteries this weekend,” Mortara said. Neither have an electric car as their every day vehicle.
“Do you guys follow any particular diet and exercise plan?” I asked. It seemed an odd question in the midst of mostly technical inquiries, I sensed, or maybe they hadn’t been asked about it before. It took a second to get an answer.
“We never stop. No time for exercise,” said Massa.
“From a cardio point of view, Formula 1 is far more intense,” said Mortara, a former Formula Three Euroseries champion. “But Formula E has a heavy steering wheel. The arms and the shoulders are constantly engaged, using a lot of force, all day long.”
Brooklyn, too, is a great place to hold this race as their may not be a singular spot in the United States where so many from different cultures live, eat, transport themselves and (mostly) get along. This is the race’s 5th season, and it’s the only one in the USA.
The race starts; the crowd surges, cheering their favorites. It’s a small track and we can’t see all of it. Hordes gather around monitors, shouting.
It’s not Massa and Mortara’s day, however – Massa crashes (unhurt), Mortara spins out and, the following day, Jean-Eric Vergne becomes the first driver to win back-to-back ABB Formula E Championships following the season finale, while Sebastien Buemi and Robin Frijns shares the race wins.
The winners or losers are only part of the point of the competition, however. Its ultimate aim is to bring electric cars completely out of their “I like the idea, but I wouldn’t buy one” into “I must have one,” and to stoke the passion of future consumers worldwide as well as overtaking Formula 1 in popularity.
The race is on.