I’ve been a car enthusiasts since I was a kid. However, I must confess that I had never been to any sort of FIA race before this past July 15. Not Formula One, not WEC, nothing. So when the opportunity came up to check out the 2017 Formula E New York City ePrix in Brooklyn, right in my backyard, I jumped at it.
BMW invited me to go along with them, to check out the ePrix and the Amlin-Andretti Team, with whom BMW is partnered. So, of course, I said yes and a car picked me up and drove me north to Brooklyn. The idea of attending any sort of proper motorsport race in Brooklyn was exciting. It was also the first Formula E race to even be held in Brooklyn, making this day extra special.
When we arrived at the track, we were ushered into a media building, which was a massive, luxurious and high-tech spot for us media types to get some work done, report on what we were seeing and enjoy the amenities. We could even race on Formula E simulators and race the actual Red Hook, Brooklyn track we were about to watch.
Before the practice laps began, I made my way up to the stands to get a good look at the track and just admire the fact that we were going to be watching an actual Formula E race on the streets of Brooklyn. With both the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline in the background, while being right on the water, it was an awesome sight. This wasn’t some prestigious street circuit like Monaco, it was in the middle of blue-collar workers and, now, hipster artisanal water companies. My whole life, I knew Brooklyn as the place with hilarious accents and the some of the best food in America. But I stood there about to watch Formula E, the most high-tech racing series ever. It was a weird experience for me.
Once practice laps started, I realized how impressive these cars actually were. I had never seen a Formula E car up close before, so I had never imagined that they’d be exciting. The idea of an electric car driving around a circuit seemed completely anodyne to me. I just didn’t know if they would be enjoyable to watch race. Turns out, though, that they were. And are.
As these little electric rockets whiz by, you hear the screaming whine of the electric motor, the tires being beaten into the pavement and the you can see the sheer velocity with which they take off. Thanks to electric motors, Formula E racers have instant torque, all the time. So out of corners, they’re violently quick.
But it wasn’t just the speed or the noise that made them interesting, it was how they were changing the game of racing. The Red Hook circuit was only a touch over a mile long, so it was no Nurburgring. But that’s because these electric racers can’t do big long circuits, due to battery range constraints. So the circuits have to be smaller with more corners.
The more corners, and the tighter they are, means more braking. More braking means more regen-braking which means more juice being pumped back into the battery. So drivers have to monitor this regen-braking and figure out how they’re going to use it. It adds another layer of depth to an already brutally competitive sport.
Just an hour after the practice laps were over, qualifying laps started. This is where we got our first taste of what the race was going to be like. The practice laps were just that — practice. Drivers getting a feel for their cars and the track itself. For qualifying, though, drivers had to actually push their cars a bit, obviously, and we got to see just how quick they can be. It was only a taste of what was to come, though.
Once the qualifying laps were over, we were able to take a break, grab some lunch and hang out in the media building. There, we were treated to a buffet of food and drinks, allowing us to cool off, as the temperatures were beginning to creep into the high 90s, Fahrenheit. In fact, it was difficult to be outside for longer than 30 to 45 minutes, as there was no shade, the sun was brutal and we were experiencing what felt like a million percent humidity. The police dogs were having a hard time with the hot pavement, that’s how how it was. I feel bad for anyone who had to stand next to me, after having been there for a few hours. I couldn’t have smelled good.
The only real complaint any of us had was with the time in between the qualifying laps and the actual race. It was a solid four hours in between, leaving us as media and fans in attendance very little to do. At least us media members had shelter from the sun inside the media building. Most fans had nothing of the sort, which must have been brutal. Admittedly, there were concession stands and many automakers were in attendance to give fans a taste of their brand and technology. So fans had some respite from the sun, but barely.
BMW’s i Division was there, showing off its tech and some of its cool cars. So there were of course a pair of the i Divison’s now-famous cars, the BMW i3 and BMW i8. A Fluid Black i3 caught the eyes of many adults who thought it to be a cool and edgy electric car. Especially in Brooklyn, which is becoming more and more hipster by the minute. The BMW i8, though, caught the eyes of many children, who were wowed by its stunning shapes and exciting design.
There was also a BMW 530e iPerformance, done up in M Performance parts. I though the idea of a hybrid 5 Series all kitted out with M Performance parts was kind of cool. It looked angry and aggressive yet was powered by a four-cylinder hybrid setup. I like that.
After we melted for a few hours, the race was finally set to begin. I made my way to the stands, which were nearly vacant for practice laps, to find that there wasn’t a single good vantage point left to get some pictures and video, as it was packed. So I made my way down to the fence behind the media building to catch a glimpse of these electric racers flying by, up close and personal.
I also was able to catch them just after a corner, which allowed me to see just how quick Formula E cars can accelerate and I was merely feet away from the action, separated only by a chainlink fence. It was thrilling.
As the track was only a touch over a mile long, the laps were under a minute each. This meant there was little time in between seeing the cars fly past your vantage point. It was a bit odd to see such short laps but it made the race more exciting, as there was far less time in between the action.
While the laps were short, there were a lot of them. They completed 40 laps, which seems like quite a lot. Though, the laps were so short the race was over in under an hour. So while the actual race was very exciting, as you were always less than a minute away from seeing high-speed action right before your eyes, it didn’t last long. Which seemed sort of cheap, as we waiting hours for it in the blistering sun.
Never mind that, though, we were able to see genuine FIA racing going on in Brooklyn, the home of wise-guys and pizza. How cool is that?
After the race, BMW took us journalists out to dinner at a wonderful little place called Sociale, in Brooklyn. The restaurant looked like your typical hole-in-the-wall place in Brooklyn. Inside it felt like home and you could see the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. It doesn’t get much cooler than that after a day of racing.
Until the food comes out, of course. While Brooklyn has become overrun with hipsters and tech startups, which isn’t such a bad thing, obviously, because it’s helped the turnaround of the city tremendously, the food is still old-school Brooklyn. It was superb.
Every dish that came out was better than the next. Paired with great Italian wine and some good conversation, as the sun started to set, and it was a great ending to a thrilling day.
Formula E isn’t anywhere near as popular as Formula One and it still gets scrutinized by many car enthusiasts. Most enthusiasts mock it for its supposedly silent cars, lack of exciting tracks and boring teams. However, Formula E can be just as exciting as Formula One and it offers an entirely new experience. If you have the opportunity to attend a Formula E race, do it. Especially if it’s in Brooklyn.