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China racing into global spotlight

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-13 10:08
Formula E that participates in the FIA World Championship, on July 3, 2018 in Ascoli Piceno, Italy. [Photo/VCG]

Formula E organizers thrilled to add Sanya to prestigious series

Expanded and upgraded, the world's premier electric racing series is poised to gain new traction in the world's largest EV market.

After a two-year hiatus from Chinese mainland streets, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, an international all-electric single-seater racing series, will return to where it all started in its upcoming fifth season by staging an ePrix in Sanya, Hainan province, as part of its 13-race season.

Adding Sanya to the existing Hong Kong race makes China the only country in the world with two host cities in the series, which debuted on temporary street tracks around Beijing's landmark Bird's Nest on Sept 13, 2014.

Formula E's success has transformed what was once considered an experiment into a thrilling international spectacle by taking electric cars to the public and staging races in cities like Paris and New York, where spectators watch cars whip past at speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour.

Advances in battery, motor and gearbox technologies have made it all possible, so re-establishing the sport in China, the world's largest market of electric road cars, is a logical step.

"Putting Sanya on our schedule means coming back strong to the Chinese mainland," Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Formula E, said at Tuesday's media conference in Beijing to launch the new season.

"The Sanya race is only the first step of a bigger strategy to develop our presence in a stronger way in China. It will be a fantastic event to enhance our influence here, which is our main objective."

Agag said local government's strong stance in promoting EVs as daily transportion made Sanya stand out from as many as 100 new city bidders around the world to join the series.

The 2018-19 Formula E season will kick off in Saudi Arabia on Dec 15, with the fifth race moving to Hong Kong's challenging Harborfront circuit on March 10, followed by the inaugural Sanya ePrix two weeks later.

As a testing ground for new technologies, Formula E's return to the mainland coincides with public demands for cleaner energy alternatives against the backdrop of sustainable development, said industry observers.

"The demonstration of how key technology advancements, especially the battery unit, have reshaped motor racing is very much anticipated in China," said Yan Jianlai, deputy secretary general of Society of Automotive Engineers of China.

"Hopefully, the exposure to the world's top electric racing series will enlighten and encourage local manufacturers to make upgrades on their road car products."

According to FIA, the world governing body of motor sports, China produced 794,000 new-energy cars and sold 777,000 in 2017, making it the biggest manufacturer and consumer in the global EV market.

Season 5 of the Formula E will see a major upgrade on its new Gen2 cars first unveiled at the Geneva motor show last March. With a more endurable battery unit, the vehicle has double the energy capacity of the Gen1 car, eliminating the need for mid-race car swaps seen in previous seasons.

With 250kW of power, the Gen2 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 2.8-seconds and can attain a top speed of 280 km/h.

Driven by the new possibilities, major automakers BMW, Nissan, Mercedes and Porsche are set to join the Formula E ranks over the next two seasons. However, Agag is keen to see more involvement from Chinese manufacturers rather than just China-funded teams.

"We are looking to see more manufacturers from China and Korea and US; the problem is we might have no space for more brands," he said.

Out of the 11 total teams participating in the new season, three are fully owned or partially funded by Chinese investors.

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