Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg
Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

New York’s First Formula E Race Electrifies Fans

Formula E races aren't exactly silent, but they are green.

For years Formula 1 organizers have tried to bring Formula racing to New York City, but to no avail. Budget constraints, noise concerns, and political challenges within the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) stymied attempts.

But last week the FIA Formula E Qualcomm New York City ePrix—a race that pits electricity-powered cars against each other for nearly 50 laps around a 1.2-mile hairpin course—did it. More than 15,000 fans attended the ePrix, which ran for two days along the water in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Tickets sold out days before the gates opened.

The backdrop proved as compelling as any. From the main grandstand, spectators could see the Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower as they watched Sam Bird win for his team, DS Virgin Racing.   

Richard Branson attended—he is the primary backer behind DS Virgin Racing, of course. So did Leonardo DiCaprio, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Chris Hemsworth, along with a robust mix of European racing enthusiasts, Manhattan dignitaries, and Brooklyn locals—all whom roared loudly whenever one of the electric racers would hit a wall or hitch itself on one of the turns.  

When I asked team owner Michael Andretti how he'd approach the course himself, he simply said: “Try to survive.” He also predicted that electric cars will dominate U.S. roads in 10 years' time. “This is the future of racing,” Andretti said.

Here are the best shots from the weekend.  

The Winner
The Winner

Sam Bird was the first driver to win an international motor race in New York. He won the FIA Formula E Qualcomm New York City ePrix for DS Virgin Racing. Jean-Eric Vergne and Stephane Sarrazin, both for TeCheetah, finished second and third, respectively.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Route
The Route

Drivers completed races of 43 and 49 laps during the races Saturday and Sunday in New York. The 1.21-mile track featured 10 corners and was set against the backdrop of Lower Manhattan.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Cars
The Cars

Each of the electric cars raced at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and can go from zero to 60 mph in roughly three seconds. All events have two practice sessions (an opening 45-minute session followed by a further 30-minute session) before the main event. Drivers each have two cars with 200kW of power available throughout the race.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Dutchman
The Dutchman

Robin Frijns is the Dutch driver who races for Amlin Andretti racing. Frijns finished in the top 10 for his first five races, including a podium finish at the Malaysia ePrix, during his rookie season in 2015-16. He finished No. 9 overall in final race results Sunday.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Stops
The Stops

During races, drivers must make one mandatory pit stop in the team garage to change cars. An FIA steward watches the switch to ensure that all safety equipment is correct and that it all happens within a minimum time period. Tire changes are not permitted during this pit stop unless there is a puncture or damage.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Big Chill
The Big Chill

Dry ice is used to cool the battery packs in the cars after hot laps. Each battery charges to full in roughly 45 minutes.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Start
The Start

The races, called ePrix, begin with a standing start rather than with a so-called formation lap to let cars get in position for a flying start. Drivers line up on a dummy grid and slowly file into position for the race start. The race lasts for just under an hour, with drivers making one mandatory pit stop to change cars part way through.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Wheel
The Wheel

The tiny wheels in Formula racing cars act like video game controls, letting drivers minimize and smooth out every movement.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Location
The Location

New York City became the official location for the ePrix after the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alicia Glen attended such a race in Paris. Organizers said the city decided to host the race because it is considered environmentally friendly, with no noise or air pollution. The location of Red Hook, Brooklyn, was chosen for its dramatic backdrop of the Manhattan skyline and because it would not impede traffic patters the way other locations might—such as, say, Central Park, which had been considered. 

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Garages

Each team has dozens of supporting mechanics and technicians who tune the cars at each race interval.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Garages
The Crash
The Crash

Fans did see one major crash when Felix Rosenqvist, Nick Heidfeld, and Pierre Gasly got tangled on the last turn fighting over P2.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Research
The Research

Formula E, like Formula 1, is a big research lab for automakers such as BMW and Audi, which ultimately use the technology they develop for racing in future production cars.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Sunblock
The Sunblock

Temperatures hit the high 80s Fahrenheit, with blistering sun and sweltering asphalt for drivers and attendees alike. Shade came at a premium.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Actor's Driver

The French driver Tom Dillmann competes for Venturi racing, the Monaco-based team founded by Gildo Pallanca Pastor and Leonardo DiCaprio. Pastor is the Monegasque owner of Venturi Automobiles. Dillmann won the German Formula Three Championship in 2010 and last year won the Formula V8 3.5 Championship. He finished seventh in overall race results Sunday.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Actor's Driver
The Sound
The Sound

While television coverage makes the races seem nearly silent, there is a distinct hum and buzz as the cars round the track at each turn during a Formula E race. It sounds very futuristic—what a car race might sound like in a movie set in the year 2117.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The Celebration
The Celebration

Bird finished qualifying in fourth but managed to eke out a victory. His teammate, Formula E debutant Alex Lynn, had earned a pole position earlier in qualifying rounds but left the race later Saturday after his car developed problems.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg

The End
The End

Drivers will travel next to Montreal, Canada, for the season finale double-header on July 29 and 30.

Photographer: Cesar Soto/Bloomberg