For a city of commuters, New York City still loves its cars. Over 18,000 racing fans turned out for the sold-out weekend of the first-ever NYC ePrix, the all-electric racing series put on by Formula E.
Instead of a Formula 1 race, which is like standing inside a very angry hive of bees, these cars sounded more like the futuristic whine of a ship from “Star Wars” as they sped around the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. Let that sink in — they built an international-level race track on the Brooklyn waterfront. How cool is that?
Among the crowd were Tim and Lourdes, who took time off work in Ohio to see their first ePrix. “She follows NASCAR, I follow Formula 1. We just love fast vehicles,” says Tim. “It’s pretty cool because we went to NASCAR last weekend. We really like Formula 1, so it’s cool to hear cars that don’t make a lot of noise.”
They weren’t the only ones who came a long way for the event. Celebrities who stopped by to check out the green tech included electric car enthusiast Leonardo DiCaprio, DS Virgin Racing CEO Richard Branson, whose driver Sam Bird won Sunday’s race, and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth.
The field of 20 Formula E cars represents the cutting edge of electronic technology, which still has its limits. The ePrix, which began in 2013, takes only about an hour to race because that’s how long the cars’ batteries last, and top speeds reach only about 140mph versus the 200+ of Formula 1 cars.
That, however, will be changing soon. According to a mechanic in the ePrix paddock, Formula E cars can actually reach similar speeds to F1 but are limited to about 155mph given the narrowness of the track and shorter straightaways. But the next time the race returns to NYC, he hints, we may be in for a much faster contest.
Alas, last weekend’s event doesn’t mean NYC has a new permanent racetrack. Formula E designs its courses to fit within existing streets and parking lots within city limits to promote public transit, and they’re disassembled once the event is finished. But improvements like new pavement are just part of the revival happening in Red Hook.
Bill Burkard grew up in the Brooklyn borough and drove two hours from Long Island for the race. Walking around the Allianz eVillage fan area, he seemed stunned by what he saw (besides the fancy cars). “When I was growing up, this was a notorious neighborhood,” he recalls. “They had an article in Life magazine that called Red Hook the crack capital of the United States. And now look.”
Has the event made him a racing fan? “Who can’t be after this?”