Formula E's ePrix Brings Electric New Street Race to Downtown

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Stock photo of Formula E car to be driven in the ePrix next April. 

A cleaner, quieter and environmentally-friendlier race is coming to Long Beach next April. The Long Beach ePrix--part of the Federation of International Racing’s new Formula E Championship series--will be one of two domestic races featuring fully electric race cars during the inaugural Formula E season that starts this September.

The race will take place April 4, 2015, two weeks before the city hosts the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the very same track. The existing infrastructure and the notoriety of Long Beach with the racing world were big selling points for the race which was originally proposed to be placed in Los Angeles. Currently, the ePrix has a one-time race agreement with the city but Alejandro Agag, CEO of FIA Formula E Championship, hopes the partnership will be extended.

Long Beach TrackThe track will be an amended version of the Grand Prix course and organizers said that the impact on the city, both in street closures and cost of construction, will be minimal. All Formula E events are designed to happen in one day with practice, qualifying and the one-hour race happening sequentially to cut down on disruptions to host cities. The ePrix is also one of two races in the Formula E circuit scheduled to be free to fans.

The announcement of the arrival of the ePrix to Long Beach came at a press conference held outside the Terrace Theater, which overlooks part of the track cars will zip through next April. Mayor Bob Foster, a long-time electric vehicle owner, said the city was proud to be on the short list of cities hosting a Formula E race and applauded the cars’ design and performance.

“As you can see, these cars are fast, these cars are sexy and these cars are very quiet,” Foster said.

The cars differ in more ways than just being substantially quieter than the Indy cars that roar through Shoreline every year. They have no clutch or gear box which eliminates the need to shift manually, and like most electric cars, you hardly know when they’ve been turned on.

“It’s like a very fast go kart,” said newly signed Formula E driver Lucu di Grassi, who races for Audi Sports Team Joest.

Di Grassi, who is the official test driver for Formula E, said the acclimation period for a driver switching over from a combustion car to an electric was very short and with all things being equal, the Formula E cars are just as powerful as more traditional open-wheel race cars. The most noticeable difference will be when the cars enter pit row.

There will be no changing of tires or refueling at each pit stop, but instead a total swap of cars. Because of the strain of racing conditions on the electronic fuel cells, drivers will exit one car and jump into a fully charged replacement car that a one-man crew prepares for them. The race is scheduled to last one hour and drivers will have to switch cars twice in a race.

The FIA hopes to attract families with children to attend as they try to market the sustainability of electric vehicles to the next generation. The hopes are that by showing electric engines pushing cars to speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour, it will help change the perception of electric vehicles at the consumer level.

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The advancement of electronic engine technology is also an outcome of this race circuit that has everyone involved excited. Organizers think that the impact that Indy Car and NASCAR had on street vehicles will be mirrored by Formula E with the electric car industry. 

“Everything from fuel injection, carbon brakes, to many other advancements in the motor industry came from racing,” Agag said. “But electric cars, until now, didn’t have a platform where new technology could be tested and could compete against each other. Now they have one with Formula-e.”

Qualcomm, a wireless technology company based out of San Diego, is partnered with the race and helped develop a wireless charger for the Formula E cars. The technology which will be made available to race cars in season two will allow teams to do away with traditional plug in chargers with a base pad that will automatically charge the cars’ batteries.

General Manager of Wireless Charging Steve Pazol echoed the sentiment that while the racing series will be entertaining, the benefits of the new series will be evident in future developments as cities continue to seek out sustainable alternatives and integrate them into their infrastructures. that will eventually find their way off the track and into garages in neighborhoods.

Agag"A lot of technology from Formula E in a couple years is going to be directly applicable to the consumers,” said Steve Pazol, general manager of wireless charging at Qualcomm, which is partnered with the series. "From the beginning, the though was to take the race and take the technologies with a pretty direct line of sight of what’s going to go to the consumers."

The race will also embrace social media, allowing people to vote for their favorite drivers, with the top three drivers receiving an added electronic boost that they can use during the race. Agag said that addition was made because organizers recognized that the current generation doesn’t want to just watch, they want to be involved. Now they’ll get that chance.

“In football you cannot score a goal through Twitter,” Agag said. “But here, with Twitter, you’ll be able to push your driver and that may carry them to victory.”

The Long Beach race will be one of 10 races in the Formula E series, joining cities like London, Berlin and Miami as other host cities. As of right now, only Long Beach and one unannounced European host city will put the race on for free. The first Formula E race will happen in Beijing, China in September. The Long Beach event will be televised nationally by Fox Sports. 

Agag is hopeful that the free admission and compactness of the event will help draw big crowds that the race can expose to the benefits of electric vehicles, especially in a forward thinking city like Long Beach.

“People are still, and maybe California is an exception, they see those cars as non-cool,” Agag said about electric vehicles. “We have to change that. By showing these cars going fast, racing, we think we can change the minds of a lot of people.”

For more information on Formula E, visit fiaformulae.com

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