Formula E

Live from Brooklyn: It’s Formula E Racing

For the first time, electric racing swept through New York City in the form of Formula E, The Electric Street Racing Series. Teams battled it out to see who was fastest, relying only on battery-powered racing cars, driver skill, and some lucky breaks to find a quick opening.

New York City was chosen to host the ninth and 10th rounds of the 2016-2017 Formula E season. This marks the first time that New York City has ever hosted an all-electric ePrix. The streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn—an area that had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy a mere five years ago—played host to sold-out races on both Saturday and Sunday. TE Connectivity invited Machine Design and Electronic Design for a behind the scenes look at the race, the cars, and technology powering these vehicles.

The Andretti ATEC-02

TE Connectivity showed us around the team pits on Thursday before the race, and we had a close up introduction with the Andretti ATEC-02. MS Amlin and Andretti, an organization run by Michael Andretti (son of racing legend Mario Andretti), teamed up in 2015 to design a Formula E car. It’s now one of the 10 teams competing in the FIA Formula E Championship.

A Fast Car Running on Electricity

Don’t let the battery fool you: The ATEC is a fast car, capable of reaching 225 kilometers per hour (kph) or 140 miles per hour (mph). The engine power is 200 kw with an acceleration of 0 to 100 kph (0 to 62 mph) in just 3 seconds. The car produces a noise level of 80 decibels. Compare that to the Formula One Track at 130 decibels; these cars barely make a sound as they pass you by. They implement the latest in battery technology, such as wireless charging from Qualcomm and pollution-free glycerin for car charging.

Powered by the Williams Battery

FIA Formula

Each car is equipped with the same battery provided by official sponsor Williams Advanced Engineering. The battery is lithium ion and the current capacity of the battery is 28-kilowatt hours (kWh). Next season will see a larger 54 kWh battery which will power the car for the whole race. According to Alan Amici, vice president of the Automotive Americas for TE Connectivity, these technological advances are the most exciting development to come out of Formula E. For optimal design and maximum car efficiency, TE has developed innovative technology to get the most out of the car during the race. For example, switching out copper wiring for aluminum wiring saves on weight and improves battery performance. These advancements are developed on the race track and ultimately introduced into consumer vehicles.

Data Analysis Is Key to Winning

With all cars using the same battery, the key to winning boils down to two factors: engineering and driver ability. The way each car harnesses the battery power and transfers it into the motor, gearbox, and inverter determines how much power it can use during the race. Speaking with Judith Henzel, TE Connectivity’s resident team engineer—who works inside the Andretti Autosport shop in Indianapolis, and is one of only a few female engineers working in Formula E—and Paul Webb, Autosport global product manager for TE, the constant contact with the driver and team is the other deciding factor. The car is transmitting at least 1 to 4 terabytes of data back to the team during the race, which is analyzed for performance. The drivers don’t slam on the brakes to catch turns, but rather coast on the acceleration already generated; this saves on accelerations (a massive power draw) when they see an opportunity.

And They’re Off…

Steven Tee/LAT Images/FIA Formula E via Getty Images

Several teams competed in the weekend’s two races, including those sponsored by Panasonic, Jaguar, Schaeffler, and Virgin. Each racer uses two cars per race due to the current limitations of the battery. There are 43 laps per race.

ATEC Flies Down the Course

We were lucky enough to get an action shot of the ATEC car as it passed us by. The cars do not produce a lot of noise as they pass. It sounds like a quick buzz that appears from nowhere, but you can still feel the speed of the vehicle as it whizzes around corners.

Switching Out for Car No. 2

Halfway through the course, the drivers switch out their first car for the second with a full battery. On the screen for the crowd, you can see the battery percentages for each car and determine how much power they have left to be competitive, or even finish the race. A mismanagement of your battery will leave your car stranded on the track, and there is no pulling into the pit stop for a quick top-off.

Trying to Find the Upper Hand

As in any race, the moments to pass your competition are few, and when you see an opportunity you have to risk it. Here we see three vehicles fighting for the corner, each trying to overtake the other. While the cars are powered by electricity, they still perform like racing vehicles, able to generate the quick acceleration needed to overtake the other.

And the Winner is….

Sam Bloxham/LAT Images/FIA Formula E via Getty Images

Sam Bird for DS Virgin won first place in both events over the weekend. Bird is joined by Felix Rosenqvist (second place) and Nick Heidfeld (third place), both of Mahindra Racing. This bumps up the team sponsored by famous industry mogul Richard Branson into fourth place on the leader board as they finish the rest of season.

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