Formula E Long Beach Grand Prix Breathes New Life Into Racing

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The world of racing commands tremendous amounts of money to squeeze as much performance as possible from an inefficient internal combustion engine (ICE) design while pushing the envelop of entertainment. But let’s face it, the Formula 1 races of the past few decades are more about quarter-of-a-second wins and statistics than the sheer previous decades of gentleman racing and raw enthusiasm of a team, a driver, and their vehicle. Now, Formula E steps in, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale racing world.

Before I attract negative comments, I’m a race fan and was born with vintage race cars around me. I still enjoy Sports Prototype, as well as MotoGP. They both still pack excitement and are reminiscent of the late 1970s to mid-80s great races. But in these past few decades, racing has gotten very expensive, keeping away young promising talents and mechanic geniuses. Formula E heralds a new era of racing with an electric drivetrain, with top-notch racers, ironically some from the F1 world. And it evolves all the time.

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Formula E Racing Doesn’t Pollute

You might be surprised to know Formula E charges its race cars with glycerin generators from Aquafuel, which produces no CO2 emissions. I met Paul Day, CEO and founder, last year. He got very excited about the process, for logical reason. Imagine racing without polluting?

How Formula E Works

Formula E e-Prix Long Beach 2016-129The first season of Formula E saw all 10 teams using identical single-seaters, designed and built by Spark Racing Technology, the Spark-Renault SRT_01E. Working with McLaren for the battery systems, and Williams, Dallara, Renault, and Michelin on tires, these cars brought old racing companies into a modern new context. I spoke to a few people from Spark and found out that, in order to make the battery pack as safe as possible, they encased it in an 11” thick mixtures of carbon fiber and other resins. The packs are EMF shielded in order to avoid a Faraday box problem. I found this refreshing since no commercial EV maker talks about this problem. You can find out more about the Formula E e-Prix here.

Consisting of a practice run and qualifying, the Formula E Grand Prix starts its e-Prix from a standing start and limits its energy use to between 180 kW and 200 kW. This helps drivers last long enough to reach the middle of the race, about 30 minutes, where they jump onto another identical single seater for the remainder of the race.

But Formula E innovates by allowing fans to interact directly with their favorite drivers — by introducing a great concept in the form of FanBoost. FanBoost gives an extra boost of energy to the three most popular drivers to the tune of 100kJ. They can only use this on the second half of the race and only between 180 kW and 200 kW of energy drawn from the battery pack. You can find out more about that here. And charging can take place during the practice sessions, but not while racing.

Formula E Second Season Opens Up To Various Manufacturers

Formula E e-Prix Long Beach 2016-19While everyone ran on the same cars last year, the second Formula E season allowed teams and manufacturers to develop components and new powertrains, such as the electric motor, inverter, and transmission. Season 3 will open the battery development to other companies. Today, 8 manufacturers developed new powertrains, while only 1 remained with the Spark single gear system. Other teams introduced 4 and to 6 gears. The sound of the gearing made it possible to discern who was running on the original setup, and who wasn’t.

NextEV went with OmniGear, with Craig Daniel as the General Manager, whom I had a great in-depth talk with. We’ll have more to follow on this in another article. Virgin partnered with Citroen’s luxury brand, DS.  The Abt team partnered with Schaeffler. Andretti stayed with Amlin and decided to stay with the original configuration, and e.Dams stayed with Renault. Mahindra and Venturi went solo. Trulli partnered with Motomatica, but withdrew this season to compete better the following.

You can find out more about the second season here.

Formula E Is Geared For The Future

What’s important about Formula E is that it innovates, without replacing Formula 1, nor any other race series. The Formula E is overtly geared toward the future, aiming to bring in a younger generation of race enthusiasts in an interactive way with plans to get you as close as possible to your favorite drivers.

I have interviewed Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings, three times since 2013, and found his excitement, well, exciting. Our first interview was about introducing an electric single seater racing series. But he promised much more was to come. Lucas Di Grassi, the current 2016 Long Beach e-Prix winner, told me that when all cars are racing, their decibel signature was the equivalent of one Formula 1 car on a track! He also said he made a huge leap of faith going into electric car racing when many other drivers either told him he was crazy or played down this significant historic moment. I spoke to Alejandro last year again, where he wanted to introduce how you could see your favorite’s driver’s breathing and heart rate. The idea is, what if you could see everything she or he was doing, as close as possible to being there with him or her? CleanTechnica was fortunate to try the Virtual Reality Formula E simulator at the event and understands how all these technologies and new racing series will coexist happily.

Formula E e-Prix Long Beach 2016-55This year, Alejandro introduced the idea of robot racing. Next year, we will have drone-like electric four-wheel racers around the world. This very controversial idea made some drivers feel as if they would be replaced. Instead, both races will attract different crowds. Alejandro told us there was more to come, so stay tuned!

I quickly interviewed Daniel Abt, third on the podium, who also said he made the right choice and that many of his friends are now trying to get in Formula E. Stephane Serrazin, second on the podium, said he enjoys racing on the Long Beach street track since passing is much more difficult than on a track. He’s excited about the next race in France, his own country, where the same street track will take them in Paris, something that hasn’t happened since the 1920s.

The race was thrilling with a few wall hits and a pace car that held drivers locked into slow mode for two laps. This gave us a full, flat-out race the last two laps, which culminated into a Lucas Di Grassi winner over Stephane Serrazin, and Daniel Abt hot on their tales. Before the pace car slowed everyone down, Serrazin was only a second away from Di Grassi. The race was spectacular. We look forward to the Monaco e-Prix and the rest of the season. We are excited to see where other US Formula E will happen in the near future.

All images by Nicolas Zart

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Nicolas Zart

Nicolas was born and raised around classic cars of the 1920s, but it wasn't until he drove an AC Propulsion eBox and a Tesla Roadster that the light went on. Ever since he has produced green mobility content on various CleanTech outlets since 2007 and found his home on CleanTechnica. He grew up in an international environment and his communication passion led to cover electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, test drives, podcasts, shoot pictures, and film for various international outlets in print and online. Nicolas offers an in-depth look at the e-mobility world through interviews and the many contacts he has forged in those industries. His favorite taglines are: "There are more solutions than obstacles." and "Yesterday's Future Now"

Nicolas Zart has 572 posts and counting. See all posts by Nicolas Zart