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Montreal event has Norris McDonald pondering Formula E racing

Formula E is in its third season and attracting new engine manufacturers all the time, which means it's something our motorsport expert has to write about.

  • Formula E

Two things of interest happened to me this past week. I filled out my accreditation request for the 50th anniversary Grand Prix du Canada, which will be held June 9-11 at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal, and I received an email from a publicist, Sophie Des Marais, asking me if I wanted to do a column on Formula E because that series would also be racing in Montreal this summer.

Boy, you’ve gotta love Montreal. They don’t hold just one international world championship formula car event in that city, they hold two. And they had a World’s Fair (Expo 67) and a summer Olympics, and they have a wonderful subway system that goes just about everywhere on the Island of Montreal, and they just went ahead and did all that instead of sitting around and talking about it ad nauseam, like they do in Toronto.

So, I crossed my fingers that I’d filled in the credentials application correctly — it goes to the FIA in Paris for approval, and they look down their noses at you if a comma is out of place — and I told Ms. Des Marais that, sure, I wouldn’t mind talking to someone about Formula E.

Now, I have written this several times in my online columns but not on the pages of Wheels, so here goes: I do not like Formula E racing. I don’t think it’s sport; I think it’s a promotion. There is nothing wrong with cars being powered by electricity, but that’s why there’s sports car racing. Sports car racing encompasses internal combustion gasoline engines, diesel engines and hybrid engines (as does Formula One). The various sports car sanctioning bodies could create a class for electric cars and their drivers could take them out there and test them against all the others. Then we’d find out how superior (or inferior) electric cars are.

But by creating a series specifically for them, an electric car always wins (which I don’t think would be the case if they were racing against all kinds of other cars). I just wonder what the FIA will do when all the manufacturers of fuel-cell cars demand a Formula Fuel-Cell Series. Equal time, if you will.

Having said all that, Formula E is in its third season and attracting new engine manufacturers all the time, which means it’s something I have to write about. I am a motorsport writer, and — my prejudice aside — this is part of my beat, and so, I can’t ignore it. When it started, Renault and Audi were the only two involved. Now, Jaguar and BMW are in (Jaguar cars finished fourth and ninth in a recent race at Mexico City) and — although not confirmed — Ferrari is rumoured to be interested.

Formula E

The driver lineup is made up primarily of F1 castoffs (Nick Heidfeld) and never-quite-good-enoughs (Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne, Lucas di Grassi) as well as the sons of several former F1 drivers, like Nicolas Prost and Nelson Piquet Jr. No women, though. Yet.

The series doesn’t go head-to-head with Formula One, in that it holds its first race pretty much as the F1 season is ending, or winding down, anyway. It finishes its “year” in the middle of the summer. And that’s where Montreal comes in.

The 2016-17 season kicked off in Hong Kong and will end in Montreal with two races on July 29 and 30. The championship could be decided. It could be all terribly exciting. So, I said to Des Marais: “Who should I talk to in order to find out how exciting it will be, really?” And she said: “How about Patrick Carpentier?”

Now, Patrick Carpentier is one of this country’s most successful, all-round, racing drivers. He’s driven — and raced — everything: karts, Formula Fords, Atlantics, Indy Lights, Indy cars in the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League, NASCAR vehicles in the Camping World Series trucks, Xfinity Series cars and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars, CASCAR (now NASCAR Pinty’s Series) cars, Grand Am Rolex sports cars and World Rallycross cars.

But has he ever driven an all-electric racing car?

“Ì could if I want to,” Carpentier, who acts as an analyst on race broadcasts for Quebec’s RDS network, said on the telephone the other day. “But I don‘t think I will. I drove in two NASCAR (Cup) races last year and it took a lot out of me. I didn’t know if I could finish one of them. So, I’m not sure about Formula E. I don’t know if it would be a good idea. I don’t want to say I’m getting old, but driving at that level takes a lot of stamina and, at some point, maybe you don’t have as much as you would like.”

Carpentier said that the electric cars would race on a street course near downtown Montreal.

“The track is nearly three kilometres long and will begin on René Lévesque Blvd. in front of the Radio-Canada building. The cars will come close to Old Montreal.

Formula E

“They’ve started to repave the streets now, so things will be nice and smooth for those cars in July. There will be lots happening in the parking lot of the Radio-Canada building, and remember: although it’s the 150th anniversary of Canada, it’s also the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal, and so, they’re going to play that up big, and that can’t be bad for the races or the series.”

Although Carpentier won’t be driving — and hasn’t driven — an electric racing car, he says he’s asked other drivers who have and they have replied to his questions with a thumbs up.

“I talked to Oriol Servia,” he said, “and he said it was like any other formula car he’s driven but that the fact that there’s no noise was pretty disconcerting, at first. But he said that once you get used to it, it’s just another racing car that can go 175 miles an hour.”

And does Carpentier think the electric GP will rival the F1 Grand Prix that will be held six weeks earlier and which usually attracts a crowd of more than 100,000 on race day?

“Ìt will be hard to compare, because they are being held on different circuits,” he said. “The electric cars will run on a course really through the city, like the Honda Indy race in Toronto is held in a pretty constrictive environment. Like Toronto, there will be some grandstands, but mainly people will walk around, and it’s tough to get a count.”

There’s no indication at this point whether the races are gaining any traction in Montreal — the F1 Grand Prix is a gorilla — but the electric race has signed one major sponsor already — Hydro Quebec.

What a surprise.

Formula E

The traditional Ontario racing Spring Fling will be held once again this year on the last weekend of April at Shannonville Motorsport Park near Belleville. The fling is when Ontario road racers, regardless of their class or series, show up for scrutineering and first practice sessions of the season.

The fling, which has been held at Shannonville since 1985, was in danger of dying this year when CASC OR decided not to do the organizing, but Shannonville and Brack Driving Concepts stepped in to save the day.

As well as the race cars lapping, other lapping cars will be able to participate this year, and the Brack associates will also be operating a racing school. For complete details, go to:

www.shannonville.com or www.brackdriving.com

[email protected]

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