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HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

by SCMP

2017 FIA Formula E HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

Welcome to the space age: take a behind-the-scenes look at Formula E preseason testing in Valencia

At a Circuit Ricardo Tormo racetrack steeped in history, the futuristic world of Formula E plots its path to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 10:28am

It’s mid-morning at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo just outside Valencia and while the action going on here has a sense of familiarity about it – given the history of the place – it’s the sounds we are hearing that have stopped us in our tracks.

This twisting Circuit Ricardo Tormo was carved into the side of a hill and since 1999 has been the place where motorsport legends of the two-wheel variety have made their names.

The statue outside the front of five-time world champion Mick Doohan reflects the track’s use each November as home to the season-ending MotoGP Valencia Grand Prix, but this week it’s not the past we’re concerned with rather than the future. And that’s why things are looking – and sounding – a little different.

FIA Formula E Championship preseason testing has come to the circuit and the cars are out there whirring around the track.

Three seasons of Formula E have now been completed but unless you’re immersed in the world of electric racing on a daily basis these vehicles still sound space-aged, no matter what era you hail from.

And so they should.

What we’re witnessing this week is pretty much all completely new. For everyone. The 10 teams now preparing for season four have less than a week – and three days out on the track – to get just about every single thing they can right before action starts again with the Hong Kong E-Prix.

So you can feel the slow-burn of intensity under the Spanish sun, as the cars are fine-tuned and as drivers and their teams hunch over their printouts and their monitors.

Inside the DS Virgin Racing pit – easy to find given the Britpop soundtrack blasting out this morning – new signing Alex Lynn has been sharing the experience he had during his two drives for the British outfit last season in New York and explaining why he has joined the team for a first full season of racing.

“The way this championship is going, to be part of it is very special,” says Lynn, famed for his victory in the 2013 Macau Grand Prix.

“I was pole for my first ever race and it was surreal. I couldn’t really believe it at the time and that set me up to be here today. It was vital to my career.

“There are special challenges, like energy management. So it is completely different but that’s why we are all here.

“We want to be part of it. So we’re here testing and evaluating ourselves against the opposition and I am super excited.”

DS Virgin Racing finished last season fourth overall behind the Renault e.dams outfit that has so far dominated Formula E, winning the team title in each of its three seasons.

So each and every advance teams make during practice is vital in terms of the season ahead and putting increased pressure on the French pacesetters.

Two victories for Sam Bird at the New York ePrix double-header last season showed what DS Virgin Racing are capable of when everything clicks into place and the British star seems happy enough with how matters have been playing out this week.

“We come here, we do a lot of work, and we get ourselves ready for Hong Kong,” says Bird. “It’s about coming off the break and getting everything functioning again.

“The demands are very different between here and Hong Kong – from a fast flowing high-energy circuit to a slow, twisty low energy circuit – but we’re all in the same boat and we’ll all use the experience to see where we are at.

“We feel like there is some unfinished business in Hong Kong. We know we’ll have to be very quick and very good on energy efficiency so that’s what we’ll focus on and we’re here this week getting everything we can ready for a great start to the new season.”

Shanghai-based Techeetah had Jean-Eric Vergne claim a first-ever victory for the team at the last race of the season in Montreal.

Team principal Mark Preston says they have been trying to keep the momentum that built across their first season in the series going during the off-season.

“It’s been looking good – even though we always want to go faster,” say Preston. “It’s about not slipping back, in terms of that momentum, and to keep going on the path that we are going.

“You come here to preseason and you want everyone to pick up right where we left off with that victory. We’re on an upward path – and that’s the right way to be. We’re improving and Formula E keeps improving.”

Progress has been seen out on the track here this week, too, with Oliver Turvey and the China-backed NIO team turning heads by showing off their new colours – a new dark, tonal teal contrast is the official description – and then by topping the time sheets on two of the three days of official testing.

Team principal Gerry Hughes is happy with the progress being made on and off the track.

“We’re starting to understand what we have got as a car,” says Hughes.

“We have the opportunity here of comparing our pace – whether that be over one lap or a race stint – with that of our competitors.

“That’s the true measure of the progress you’ve made over winter. The landscape is changing in the series as we go through the generations of the car we are using. It’s just a very exciting time for the series and for all the technology we are using and developing.”

With that, Hughes tucks a wad of printouts under his arm and he’s off to another meeting before the final day of testing ends. And from here it’s a case of next stop Hong Kong.