Former IndyCar ace Carpentier high on future of Formula E electric racing

Ex-IndyCar ace Carpentier lauds Formula E

MONTREAL — Patrick Carpentier admits it took a while to get used to the idea of electric car racing. Now that he’s seen it, he likes it.

The former IndyCar ace from Joliette, Que., who has been named spokesman for a pair of Formula E street races July 29th and 30th in Montreal, said it may not replace Formula One in the hearts of motor racing fans but it could attract a new generation of enthusiasts. 

“I’ve always been for F1 and NASCAR and I will always love those cars, but this is a great series,” Carpentier said Thursday. “Last year’s championship went down to the final race.

“It’s like an Indy car with battery power. But eventually, they’re going to have so much power that people will look at it and say ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.'”

The 12-race Formula E season runs from October to July. Defending series champion Sebastian Buemi, a former F1 racer with Toro Rossi, is leading the series for the Renault team after events in Hong Kong and Marrakech. Next up is Buenos Aires in February.

The races last about 50 minutes with one mandatory pit stop for drivers to change cars.

“What’s helped Formula E the last couple of years is how close it is,” said Carpentier. “The Prost (Renault) team and the Abt team have been strong, but man they’ve got some good battles.

“And I like street racing. In F1 there’s only Monaco. NASCAR is more ovals. This is street racing. To me, it’s going to replace Indy more than F1. It’s already really popular. Mercedes is going to join in and I heard the car they’ve designed is amazing.”

The hugely popular Canadian Grand Prix F1 race in Montreal has drawn some complaints about pollution, which does not come into play much in Formula E, and noise. The reaction on that front to the E cars remains to be seen because they are not silent.

“It’s a high-pitched sound like a (remote) control car, but on steroids,” said Carpentier. “Like a jet engine.

“I kind of like it.”

The series is chasing young fans by keeping ticket prices low (general admission for the Montreal races is $32 per ticket) and with interactive features such as fan voting through the Formula E website or a phone app that gives the three top vote-getters extra FanBoost power for a short, one-time burst in the second half of races.

“It’s practice, qualifying and the race, all on the same day,” said Carpentier. “It involves the fans more than any series I’ve seen.”

Carpentier hasn’t yet tried to drive a Formula E car. He hasn’t been in an open wheel race car since 2005 and even his stock car activity was limited to two NASCAR events last season. The E cars also present some different challenges, like conserving power.

“The Sprint Cup car moves and you play with it, but these cars react quickly,” he said. “If I tested I’d like to do it, but the more you’re away from it the harder it is.

“If you put me in one of these tomorrow we’ll have some issues.”

The Formula E season also has stops in Mexico City, Monaco, Paris, Berlin and Brussels before winding up with two races each in New York City and Montreal.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press