Yesterday in New York City, 22 race cars didn't exactly roar through Brooklyn—but they were going awfully fast. The clean, quiet cars were competing in the third New York City e-Prix, an all-electric race series now in its fifth season. The New York event is split over two days, with hour-long formula-car races yesterday and today, as well as qualifying sessions and the also-electric Jaguar I-Pace-based race series. The event also represents the conclusion of the season, which visited 10 other cites around the world over seven months. Today's race will decide the champion.
Though five seasons in, the series is still young and finding its way, given the limits of battery technology. The cars are quick and hyper-efficient, but their ranges currently limit them to an hour of racing. But even that is an improvement—this is the first year that the drivers didn't have to switch cars halfway through the race.
Resolving technological challenges not only helps the 11 participating teams—each have two cars in the races—improve their performance on the track, but it also has the potential to transfer over to production electric cars. BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt says this is one of BMW's key goals with their participation. "Anything we find together with our colleagues from from the race series—whether improved efficiency in performance, making system controls better and more stable—that goes directly back into libraries for our commercial cars," he said, citing the new electric Mini SE that the company unveiled at the track in New York. "It really is exactly the same software code that we're running on both systems. So we have a direct transfer on the technology side, from our racing program to the production program and back into the racing program. It's a true technology lab."
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The first of the two Formula E races this weekend proved a thriller, with series leader Jean-Eric Vergne suffering damage to his DS Techeetah machine. Plenty of cars came in contact, as often happens on tight city tracks, and in the end Sébastien Buemi driving a Nissan e.dams came in first, with Mitch Evans in second in a Panasonic Jaguar Racing and António Félix da Costa in third in his Andretti Motorsport BMW. The real hallmark of the event, however, was the pronounced electric whine emanating from the electric racecars themselves, replacing the ear-splitting shrieks of a typical racecar's internal combustion engine with something quieter but far more futuristic. They sounded, to many, just as cool.
The race drew a solid and enthusiastic crowd to the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. It may not yet have the speed or duration of a true Formula One race—or the noise, which does help the series secure urban venues—but it's definitely got the excitement and the energy. As the innovation pushed onward, it will likely only get better for fans—as well as actual EV owners in the real world.