13 Jul 2019
Formula-E has once again descended on New York, giving us the opportunity to send our local roving reporter - Matt 'Trumpets' Ragdale down to the site to cast his tech focused eye over precedings...
Track walk: It was a frenetic hive of last minute activity on the Formula E circuit in Brooklyn, despite my giving them an extra half hour to be ready by mistakenly going to last year's accreditation centre address first. That wee hiccup aside, the logistical burden imposed by the race in Switzerland meant that the track was still a work in progress as the teams and drivers wandered round trading jokes and looking for places where they could win or lose tenths.
The surface of the track itself is typical NYC street, cracks bumps divots and the occasional drain cover, patched multiple times and in the process of being cleaned by streetsweepers as hoardings are installed and a wonderfully diverse group of forklifts, cherry pickers and other various utility vehicles wander randomly about completing their various tasks, interleaved with pedestrians, the odd scooter and, at one point, a trio of the new all electric Harley Davidson motorcycles with GoPros attached to their helmets, one of whose riders assured me they were awesome when I inquired how they rode....
The pitlane, too was boiling mass of pandemonium, with an extrication drill going on at scrutineering and all of the cars in various states of undress, mechanics and engineers hurrying about with a fierce sense of purpose. Relocated from the finish line to the start line (NYC being one of those races where the two are not the same) thanks to the fact that they no longer need to switch cars halfway through the race, instead of being inward looking 5 facing 5, the garages now stretched seemingly to the horizon along the straight.
Interesting to note the change in front wings, going from having adjusters directly on them to replacable flaps, one of which was troubling a mechanic as a small committee had gathered to carefully examine it's attachment.
Another feature was the brake cooling, which is never easily visible on telly, which consisted mainly of shaped tubes connected directly to the axle. One of the teams had blanked off half of the one that was visible, but the rest were wide open, not a surprise given the warm and humid weather expected over the next two days. And given that it's early days yet, at least in FE terms, entirely subject to change. Plenty of exposed suspension and brakes to look at along the remarkably lengthy trudge to the pit exit, but the highlight once again was Audi, in the midst of setting up on of it's cars, whose laser guided Set-Up wizard* was noisily making itself a perfectly flat surface for the alignment of the car to begin.
Almost as good was the Jaguar which upon first glance appeared to be running a staggering amount of postive camber on the front left corner, but on second glance was merely a strategically leaned wheel that had yet to be attached. But of course the piece de resistance was to be found further down, past the manic PR machine of Nissan, which all day long had Buemi doing interviews and large groups in and out of their paddock, just before you got to the spares garage, was the Michelin garage, spares, used tyres and brand spanking new ones, sat around just waiting to be put to use.
After the conclusion of the first iPace shakedown, it was time for another trip to the now once again open pitlane. With the cars in a now slightly more advanced state of assembly and the PR button turned up to 11 there was an excess of personnnel gaggled in the pitlane. Adding to the madness was a full team photo for Mahindra, which delightfully meant that they wheeled both cars out directly in front of me, fully assembled.
This allowed for an excellent shot of the diffuser in as close to full sunlight as it was going to get, and thanks to the amount of cat herding necessary to get the whole team properly posed, it was also possible to get a shot of the brake ducting, suspension, and various fiddly bits of aero on the bodywork*. Despite being replaceable, as they do take rather a beating, a mechanic did confirm that they generate a fair amount of downforce from the underbody. Aside from some team principals lounging about out back or doing PR work in front of a camera, it was obvious that a quiet word was not going to be had with anyone, so it was time to investigate the iPace paddock, since presumably no one else would be there.
A bit of a walk and one slightly confused security guard later, "journalist, what are you doing here?" and after a promise to not hurt myself I found myself delightfully indoors, with a cool breeze running the length of the warehouse where they had set up shop. After a bit of poking, and watching the cars all being recharged, and a lengthy chat with the head mechanic for one of the cars, it turns out that each vehicle gets it's own head mechanic, and they are organised into groups of 4 per stable, with a second hand shared between each 2 cars to help with the bigger jobs.
Though the reality is, that The cars themselves, although they look ungainly on telly, are much more aesthetically pleasing in real life, though they barely seem to fit in the tight confines of the typical Formula E circuit. On the way out, the drivers filed past on their way to a briefing and just like that it was time for the Formula E shakedown.
From just outside the media centre there is a good view of the entry into T12, which sets up a quick change of direction for T13 and it was a fruitful place to spend the time, watching the drivers explore different lines into the turn, which is complicated by a manhole cover smack in the middle of the road that definitely unsettles the car if it gets clipped by a wheel. As is typically the case, the early runs were infrequent and solo, and whilst awaiting the denouement one of the managers of the media centre struck up a conversation, as she was hoping to spend some time watching while things were quiet today. It turns out she had travelled up from Florida the previous year to volunteer for the NY race, a self-admitted electric car nerd, and had been hired back this year. Fortunately for her, there was also the usual rush at the end to get some slightly more serious laps in, and during the last 5 minutes of the session she was rewarded for her patience as all the cars were on track and having a bit of a go, tossing up massive amounts of dust and rocks if they strayed to far towards the margins.
Tomorrow's race looks to be an excellent battle, with Audi, Techeetah and BMW looking quite formidable. Envision Virgin and Jaguar also cannot be counted out and with close run championship points throughout the top 10, teams will have to choose their battles carefully as both drivers will be looking to maximise their haul of points in the next to last race of the year....
*The after party
Matt threw himself headlong into capturing pictures whilst also trying to engage with various personnel, as such I've peppered his article with a mere taster of those, leaving you to gorge on the feast below...