Electric cars take over Montreal streets this weekend for Formula E championship

MONTREAL — It’s time to see if all the fuss and bother created by the inaugural Hydro-Quebec Montreal ePrix electric car race was worth it.

The final two races of the Formula E season are set for Saturday and Sunday on a street course though the eastern end of downtown Montreal. It drew complaints over blocked access to homes and businesses in a city that already has more than its share of roads clogged by construction sites and sewer repairs.

Now racing will take over as former Formula One driver Sebastien Buemi tries to secure a second straight championship for himself and the e.dam Renault team. The Swiss driver has won six of his eight races this season and holds a 10-point lead over Lucas Di Grassi of the Audi Abt squad despite missing a pair of events two weeks ago in New York.

And while residents may fume about fencing and race barriers, the drivers were thrilled with the hilly 2.75-kilometre, 14-turn street circuit.

“It’s probably one of the best tracks in Formula E history so I think everyone is pleased, ” said Di Grassi, who won the inaugural electric race in Beijing in 2014.

“It looks like the best one,” said Felix Rosenqvist, the Swedish driver for the India-based Mahindra team. “It looks fantastic with the elevation as well because most tracks we have are completely flat, but this one is very up and down.

“Credit to the organizers for this one.”

People irked by the noise of the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in June will be relieved that E-cars, which sound like a swarm of insects, make half as much noise as the 130 decibels produced by roaring F1 vehicles.

Formula E was started by FIA, the world governing body for motor sports, to get in on the growing interest in emissions-free vehicles. The series draws a tiny fraction of the interest and investment of F1 but is seen as the future of racing and gets better and more competitive each year.

This week two of the world’s top sports-car makers, Mercedes and Porsche, announced they will join Formula E in 2019. Other leading brands are expected to follow.

“We now have more huge manufacturers than any other form of motorsport,” said Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird, who swept the two New York races. “I think it just adds more prestige to the championship.

“It will have an added fan base because of these additions. It adds quality and depth. What happens with budgets in the future I don’t know, but right now we welcome the four German giants (with Audi and BMW, which is to join next year) and look forward to racing them in the near future.”

Most racing series have a practice day, qualifying and the race over a three-day weekend. But E-racing compresses them into a single day, with two practice sessions in the morning followed by an hour of qualifying and a roughly 50-minute race in late afternoon.

All 20 drivers must make a pit stop and change to their second cars midway through the race. There is also Fan Boost, in which three drivers who receive the most votes from fans are allowed a short one-time dose of extra power during the race. So it pays to be popular.

The top-10 finishers get points, with 25 to the winner and 18 for second place. Securing the pole position earns another three points and the driver with the fastest lap gets one.

A sweep of the two races is worth a maximum of 58 points, so fourth-place Bird, who trails Buemi by 57 points, still has the tiniest of chances.

Mayor Denis Coderre has taken heat for the event’s $24-million price tag but sees joining Formula E as broadening the city’s international visibility. The season began in October in Hong Kong and had stops in Marrakech, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Monaco and Paris before “double-headers” in Berlin, New York and Montreal.

Sales have reportedly been slow, with daily tickets priced at $45 for general admission, $81 for grandstand seats and $131.50 for premium grandstands. But there are hopes for a strong walk-up crowd with the championship on the line and forecasts of sunny weather.

The constructors championship looks to be locked up by e.dam Renault, with Buemi and Nico Prost, son of former F1 great Alain Prost, holding a 65-point lead over Abt Audi, whose 194 points is only 12 ahead of Mahindra.

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