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Hong Kong ePrix: The need for sustainable speed

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Gearing up for the first Hong Kong ePrix, Sam Agars discovers why Formula E is the ultimate event experience, and one that is beginning to win over even the most dedicated petrol heads.

The FIA Formula E HKT Hong Kong ePrix hits town next month, bringing with it a spectacle never before seen in the city. Approaching its third season, Formula E (FE), officially the FIA Formula E Championship, employs only battery-powered cars and has quickly gained significant traction in the highly competitive motor-racing industry.

What sets FE apart, obviously, is its sustainability and the message the series takes with it as it tours the globe. This is something that has resonated with long-time DB resident Jennifer Atepolikhine, who is involved in the sponsorship and hospitality side of FE in Hong Kong. Another aspect Hong Kongers will no doubt warm to very quickly is the carnival atmosphere of a series that is basically a travelling party.

The ultimate event experience

Sport is a tradition in this city and something the locals don’t take lightly – FE has one chance to get it right or be swept aside as another event not worth the collective public’s trouble. The fact that the Hong Kong ePrix will be staged on 2 kilometres of city streets around the Central Harbourfront means it is all but assured of success. That it is set to cater for every type of fun lover won’t hurt either.

Formula E cars, while not as quick as Formula One (F1) cars, can boot from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour in three seconds and the FE is known for its tight city tracks that ensure a thrill-a-minute spectacle. The track in Hong Kong will feature a main straight on Lung Wo Road, as well as a host of exhilarating hair-pin bends and grandstand seating for over 6,000 people.

The two-day event, October 8 to 9, features a pre-race carnival and celebrity race on the opening day, followed by a jam-packed day of qualifiers and races. The eVillage will push overall capacity up to around 30,000 people and boast big screens where patrons can view all of the race action, as well as attractions, entertainment, games, performances and interactive displays promoting sustainability.

“Music and entertainment is part of the platform, it’s not all about motorsport,” Jennifer says. “They want to attract music lovers and technology lovers, and are trying to target younger kids as well.”

One way that FE is endearing itself to fans is by offering a truly interactive and engaging viewer experience. In the world of highly competitive top-level motorsports, there is often a limit to just how involved enthusiasts can be but, through FanBoost, FE has found a way for them to have a tangible impact on the race.

FanBoost allows fans to vote for their favourite driver to receive a fivesecond power boost, something that will allow him to overtake or make up ground, perhaps at a crucial point of a race. Votes are collected in the lead up to each race and announced 30 minutes before the start, with the three drivers with the most votes receiving the boost.

The way of the future

FE has been hailed as the future of motorsport and it’s easy to see why, with the sport not only practising sustainable methods but also promoting these ideals around the world.

The world’s first all-electric motor racing series, FE is determined to use this platform to drive the push towards an electric future. The organisation prides itself on creating awareness around the issues facing our planet and encouraging sustainable behaviour, living by the three core values of Energy, Environment and Entertainment.

FE has a number of ways in which it endeavours to minimise its overall footprint, using car batteries that are powered by a 0% emission and renewable glycerine fuel and, where possible, utilising clean and renewable energy at all of its events. Drivers are required to swap cars once every race due to battery life, while the cars are much quieter than the petrol-powered F1 cars, making a buzzing sound.

In 2013, FE commissioned a study that estimated that over the next 25 years, the reach of the sport would be directly responsible for the sale of between 57 and 77 million electric vehicles. It is this sort of thing that drew Jennifer to the sport.

“What really got my attention in the beginning was the sustainability and the potential to impact pollution in city streets,” she says. “I also thought the technology was cool and it is pushing the research and helping things move along.”

Jennifer sees the series as a pioneer for a future of electric and, down the track, automatic cars. “In the future, people will be driving their old cars for posterity reasons and not as a mode of transport,” she says. “It’s going to be like riding horses is now.”

For those yet to be convinced about the quality of the racing, one thing that should instantly sway their thinking is the calibre of drivers competing on the circuit. Bruno Senna, the nephew of the late F1 great Ayrton Senna, is one of a host of ex-F1 drivers on the circuit, with Lucas di Grassi, Nelson Piquet Jr and Nick Heidfeld also boasting F1 experience.

Despite the obvious similarities and crossover, Jennifer is quick to dismiss the comparison with F1, saying that FE racing is determined to make its own way. “I don’t think they want to catch Formula One, they are carving their own niche,” she says. “It’s really about the future and what kids, families and people will be interested in, in the future.”

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