Formula E Reflects Future of Automobiles: McDonald

Good racing, large crowds prove Formula E belongs in Montreal, auto racing columnist Norris McDonald says

By Norris McDonald Wheels.ca

Aug 9, 2017 10 min. read

Article was updated 6 years ago

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I spent the weekend in Montreal at the all-electric Formula E car races (won by F1 refugee Jean-Eric Vergne Sunday; Lucas Di Grassi won the race Saturday and the overall championship) as a guest of Jaguar, which is one of two major manufacturers currently running in the now-three-year-old series.

Many others are joining next year — Audi, BMW among them — and still others — Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, in particular — have given notice they will be in the series by 2019 or 2020.


Because all are convinced that the future of the automobile industry — like it or not — is in electrification and that is where racing has to go. I had a chat with James Barclay, Team Director of Panasonic Jaguar Racing, and he said this:

“The core of why Jaguar goes racing is to prove new technology and apply that to our future production cars. We go back to the use of disc brakes at Le Mans; Jaguar tried them out, won the race and we put them on our production cars.

“As the future becomes more electric, and to develop and engineer the technology that will apply to our future road cars, Formula E is the right formula at the right time for Jaguar.”

Barclay added that racing is under siege around the world because of the noise factor.

“We had a race through the streets of Paris. If any other racing series had tried for a race there, they wouldn’t even have gotten a meeting. A plus for the future of electric racing is that the noise issue goes away. People who love racing as we all do, that can only be seen as a positive.

Formula E reflects future

“F1 cars don’t sound as good as they did in the Seventies, but you get used to it. As long as we have great racing, isn’t that what’s important? We have to embrace the change.”

Barclay wasn’t the only one preaching the benefits of less noise. Jaguar driver Adam Carroll (he and fellow driver Mitch Evans recorded their best qualifying session of the season in Montreal Saturday, going off in sixth and seventh places; they didn’t do so well Sunday) sat down for a conversation and also zeroed in on the silence factor.

“You can bring your family (to a race),” Carroll said, “and you don’t need ear protection and you can actually have a conversation while the race is on. As a driver, you get to hear things you’ve never heard before. You can hear stones on the road bounce up and hit the car. If it bottoms out, you can hear the car hit the ground. You can even hear other cars crash into you — ‘eeeeech, boom!’ You can hear everything.

“On the other hand, you’ve got 20 cars on the grid waiting for the start and the excitement starts to build and you’re waiting for the lights to go out and the hardest thing to get used to there is there’s no noise. Usually, everybody’s revving their engines. But then it’s bang! And you’re off and you’re in a car race like any other car race.”

Okay, these cars do make a sound. They sound like big slot cars. They take some getting used to. However, the lack of noise aside, these are race cars and the racing this weekend was terrific. The grandstands were full and I thought there was a good General Admission crowd both days. The fans seemed to enjoy it.

There was a lot of grousing in the media about this race, though. Why wasn’t it held on Ilse Notre-Dame where the Grand Prix of Canada is run on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve? With all the road construction in downtown Montreal, why was a huge chunk of the downtown closed off for the race? Why did Mayor Denis Coderre spend upwards of $30 million on infrastructure when there was already a race track, grandstands and so-on, out in the St. Lawrence? Why inconvenience people for no reason?

Here`s why.

The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is too long for these electric cars. Now. Today. But as batteries and technology improve (next year, for instance, they won`t have to change cars mid-race), it`s possible this event could move to Ilse Notre-Dame in the years ahead. In addition, the point of Formula E is the quiet. You can have a car race and not deafen everybody. So downtown circuits are key.

And as any Canadian knows, mayors in Montreal don’t give two hoots about spending money. They just spend it and damn the consequences. That`s why this city had Expo 67 (the amusement park La Ronde is still a major tourist attraction every summer), the Olympics, the Grand Prix of Canada, the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Comedy Festival and now this — which will do nothing but grow in the years ahead and be watched by millions of people around the world who, when they hear the word Canada, will automatically think of Montreal. The return on this investment will be a hundred fold.

They have Toronto’s CITY TV on the cable system in the hotel I`m in and at 6 p.m. Saturday, when Coderre was preaching the virtues of big events on Montreal CBC television, there was John Tory at some street festival in Scarborough. It was embarrassing. The Mayor of Montreal (and it started with Drapeau) thinks big, says nothing is impossible and reaches out to the world, saying come on over. The mayor of Toronto, meanwhile, goes to a picnic.

Speaking of TSN (we weren`t, but I just mentioned the cable TV in my Montreal hotel room), they showed the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying on TSN1 on Saturday. Good for them. But the race? Forget it. Thousands of people are in hotel rooms in Canada at any one time. Most hotel cable systems have TSN1 and maybe — maybe — TSN2. They do not have TSN3, 4 or 5. So why show the qualifying on the main network one day and not the race the next? On TSN1 Sunday morning at 8 a.m., we got yet another repeat of SportsCentre and then at 9 a.m. we were treated to some obscure tennis tournament in Europe featuring two guys nobody hear of and they are playing in front of a grandstand that’s half empty. On TSN2, meanwhile, there was coverage of the British Senior golf tournament. Dozens of people were in attendance over there. I do not understand the thinking behind TV programming. Show the qualifying but not the race? That’s like showing batting practice and not the baseball game. Who makes these decisions? Wimbledon, I can understand. Milos anywhere, I can understand. The British Open — the real British Open — I can understand. But you have a Formula One world championship race available and you don`t show it in favour of showing two who-cares programs. As I said, I don’t understand.

Okay, one last thing. The star of this series is Sebastien Buemi. He is the Big Dog. But let’s call a spade a spade. On the grand scale of the absolute best racing drivers in the world, Buemi is way down the list. Everybody in F1, with an exception of one or two, is better. That’s why he’s not in F1 any more. Jean-Eric Vergne, too. When you get right down to it, the drivers in this series are the second-tier. When this series will take off and capture the public`s imagination is when the batteries evolve to the point where they can propel the cars at 200 mph (the top speed today is 140) and people with the talent of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are in it. Until then, it will be a curiosity, more than anything. Having said that, though, the racing was great and Montreal in summer can’t be beaten. Good stuff — and it can only get better.

Formula E reflects future


I didn’t see the F1 race (see above) and I received conflicting reports. One guy wrote to say:

“The Hungarian Grand Prix was a farce of a ‘race,’ if I can call it that at all, and exemplifies what’s wrong with F1. When the track they hold an event at doesn’t allow passing, and the cars they drive can’t get closer than 50 m to the car in front before they lose front end grip or suffer overheating, all you can expect to get is a fast parade. When the so-called pinnacle of motorsport and the best drivers get together, we should be seeing a much better race than what we had. I can just see next year’s issue of restricted visibility being added to the excuse list of why a driver could even try to pass the guy in front, DRS or not.”

But then another one of my spies wrote this:

“Don't let the results fool you. F1 was very interesting and enjoyable.”

So, it`s all in the eyes of the beholder. For a full report on the race, please click here.

At Edmonton Saturday night, the NASCAR Pinty`s Series raced and rising Quebec star Alex Labbe was the winner.

You`ll recall that a year ago, Cayden Lapcevich of Grimsby turned the wick up on his season when he was Out West and he went on the win the championship. If Labbe wins the 2017 Pinty's championship, the trip to western Canada may prove to be the pivotal point in his season.

Labbe started from the pole position and led three times for 216 laps en route to the win in the Luxxur 300 at Edmonton International Raceway. It was Labbe's second win in three races in the western swing, and gave the St. Albert, Que., driver the points lead in Canada's national stock car championship series.

Donald Theetge was second, Lapcevich finished third and Alex Tagliani and L.P. Dumoulin rounded out the top five. D.J. Kennington was sixth with Mark Dilley, Anthony Simone, Kevin Lacroix and Adam Martin completing the top 10.

Labbe now leads by 10 points (346-336) over Lacroix with five races remaining on the schedule. Lapcevich, the defending series champion, trails Labbe by 31 and is seven points ahead of both L.P. Dumoulin and D.J. Kennington.

The Luxxur 300 will be televised on TSN on Sat., Aug. 12, at 1 p.m. The series will then return to action on Sunday, Aug. 13, in Trois-Rivieres, Que., for the running of the Le 50 Tours Can-Am, the headline race at the Trois-Rivieres GP weekend which will also feature the Canadian Touring Car Championship and the Nissan Micra Cup.

At Pocono, Pa., Sunday, Kyle Busch won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. In Victory Lane, he said how excited he was to win his first Sprint Cup race of the season, then apologized for his mistake by saying, “I’m new at this.”

For a complete story on the NASCAR Cup race, please click here.

Josef Newgarden — he’s looking really good these days, isn’t he? — won the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio (please click here for complete story) and in the NHRA race this weekend, Tony Schumacher, Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Tanner Gray and Jason Line locked up spots in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Please click here for details.

Meantime, at Flamboro Speedway over Hamilton way, a huge crowd was on hand — the weather was great, too — for the annual Don Biederman Memorial as the OSCAAR super stocks plus the Budget Tire Pure Stocks, Lucas Oil Can Am Midgets and Lucas Oil Canadian Vintage Modifieds entertained.

Pure Stock features winners at Bennett Chevrolet Flamboro Speedway were Andy Wheller and Eric Crow. The Canadian Vintage Modifieds feature winners were Jason Keen and Brian Atkinson and Can Am Midget feature winners, Adam Racine and Josh Shantz. The Can Am main was won by Jordan Hanna. The Modified feature was won by Chris Milwain while the legendary Gary Elliott won a heat. The OSCAAR Hot Rods ran a feature and that went to Nick Clarke. The Super Late Models ran two features. They went to Andrew Gresel and Charlie Gallant. You can find all the details at flamborospeedway.ca. Thanks to Randy Spencer for all the results.

Formula E reflects future

At Merrittville Speedway, Tony Kelly’s 6th W of the season Saturday earned the Niagara Falls driver the 2017 Tomaski Racing Triple Crown Series Title for the Central Fabricating & Welding 4 Cylinder Division on W Abrasives Night.

Also taking home his sixth win was Brent Begolo in the Wood Motor Company Modified Lite Division with the third generation Thorold racer also taking home his second win in the S&W Service Centre Sportsman Division.

The busy Bobcat of Hamilton Weekly Racing Series Event also saw Mat Williamson and Chad Brachmann, (Pinty’s 358 Modifieds). Rob Murray (Hoosier Stock) and Max Chechalk in the final Vansickle Pet Valu & Groomingdale’s Enduro Qualifier accelerated by Niagara College chalk up victories of their own. Many thanks to Jim Irvine for the Merrittville report.

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