There are just some places in the world that really weren’t meant for driving. Brooklyn, along with Manhattan, are certainly some of those destinations where rubber should not meet the road.
Mitch Evans, a 23-year-old Formula E driver from New Zealand, learned that the hard way upon his first-ever visit to New York at the end of June.
But this Saturday and Sunday in Red Hook, he and a select few will have an opportunity to rip up the streets of Brooklyn with the inaugural New York City ePrix:
For the New Yorker that doesn’t know a thing about auto racing, which is many considering a large portion of the city doesn’t even have a driver’s license or own a car, Formula E is similar to Formula 1 racing, but the cars are electric.
In just its third season of existence, Formula E will become the first racing championship to hold an event in New York.
For Evans and the team he races for, which is owned by Jaguar, racing in New York provides another notch in the exciting belt that is both parties’ debut season in Formula E.
“We’re so excited for it. As a driver, to be a part of it is very surreal,” Evans said. “Obviously, New York City is a massive sporting city with baseball and basketball. But to bring motorsport now into the equation is very special.”
Evans has been driving some form of a motorized vehicle since he was four years old. From learning on go-karts to racing them at six, the New Zealander graduated to actual cars at just 13 years old.
By the time he was 16, he was racing professionally in New Zealand and Europe, the world’s premier locations for auto racing.
He moved through the ranks of the Toyota Racing Series—where he became the youngest driver to win the New Zealand Grand Prix at just 16 in 2011—Formula 3, GP3 and GP2, which are divisions beneath the famed Formula 1. Like many young racers growing up, F1 was Evans’ goal originally.
But then he discovered Formula E.
“I had been trying to get to Formula 1 for the past few years and I didn’t really have many opportunities there so I was looking elsewhere, to be honest,” Evans said. “I was looking at the likes of Indy Car, Formula E and I got the opportunity to test with Jaguar last year and the test went well. I got offered to drive for this current season, which has been amazing.”
It’s difficult to compare Formula E to Formula 1 just because of how unique this form of racing is. Instead of dealing with horsepower and fuel, Formula E cars run on batteries and the car’s power is measured in kilowatts.
Instead of pitting for fuel, Formula E drivers switch cars when battery power is low.
The differences don’t end there.
“One of the biggest differences is obviously the drivetrain is a lot different. Obviously, the sound of the car is a lot different (it’s much quieter),” Evans said. “In terms of a power output, we run around in qualifying at 200 kilowatt, which is around 270 horsepower and F1 is around 700 horsepower.”
Even though there isn’t as much power, Evans and his peers aren’t exactly driving in Prius’. In fact, he admitted that Formula E cars might be even more difficult to drive compared to F1 cars.
“We’ve had some F1 drivers come and drive Formula E and they found it very challenging. We have a lot of things to deal with behind the wheel. A lot of remote controls and receivers,” Evans said. “A lot of it is a bit fluid because there is a lot of telemetries, which provides a lot guessing work, so it’s really tough. From a driver technique point of view, the braking is very tough, very sensitive to get right because of the regeneration that we use. The system uses the rear axel and the braking to use energy to recoup back into the battery. This changes the braking a bit, and it’s been quite a lot to get used to.”
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All of this has to be monitored while zipping around a confined track that at times is pretty similar to New York City traffic. It requires incredibly quick thinking and physical endurance, which is surprising to some who think auto racing is all about getting in a car and driving.
The format of the races—there will be one each on Saturday and Sunday—doesn’t allow much time for rest or relaxation, either.
“It’s a one-day format, so we’re in the car at 8 a.m. doing two practice sessions, then we got qualifying and then an hour race,” Evans said. “And we have to do that twice over two days. Trust me, at the end of those two days, you’re pretty knackered.”
New Yorkers should probably take his word for it considering we’re usually spent just trying to cross the Verrazano Bridge in stop-and-go traffic. Evans is sitting extremely low to the ground, going at high speeds with a crowded field of drivers always looking to cut him off…without blinkers.
He’s dealing with all this while being the youngest driver in Formula E on a brand new team. Jaguar introduced their I-Type racecar this season, so the pair of rookies is continuing to find their way in the competition.
“I think we’ve done a great job this year with the limited experience we’ve had and everything we’ve gone through,” Evans said. “To be honest, I don’t really think about being the youngest. I’ve always been one of the youngest. In ePrix, there’s really no different. When you get to a certain age, it doesn’t really matter who you’re up against. Everyone knows what they’re doing.”
The playing field will be even more level considering the track in Brooklyn will be brand new to every driver this weekend. Formula E hadn’t disclosed much about the course to the 10 teams, which could provide Team Jaguar an opportunity to improve on its ninth-place standing.
“It’s very hard to prepare for a new circuit like we have in Brooklyn. In a traditional racing circuit, we have a lot of footage to look over and you roughly know what the track is,” Evans said. “But we don’t know what the track is going to be like here. We have just a sort of piece of paper layout… We’re not exactly sure of the scale of what we’re up against... Then we have to go tackle in in one day, which is tough.”
New Yorkers will have an opportunity to watch Evans take on Brooklyn on two separate occasions. Saturday’s race will take place at 4 p.m. before Sunday’s finale at 1 p.m.