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Formula E

Drivers give Hong Kong Formula E track the thumbs up amidst public backlash

Some residents have criticised traffic disruptions, expensive tickets and barriers blocking the public’s view of the track in the build-up to the opening race of the third season of the innovative series

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 7:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2016, 12:29am

Formula E’s Hong Kong debut may not have delighted everyone in the city, but Sunday’s race has won over some key supporters – the drivers.

Some residents have criticised traffic disruptions, expensive tickets and barriers blocking the public’s view of the track in the build-up to the opening race of the third season of the innovative series. 

But as the 20 drivers who will pilot the all-electric vehicles at speeds of up to 200km/h through the streets of Central’s Harbourfront got their first look at the 1.8km track during a 30-minute ‘shakedown’ session on Saturday, they couldn’t have been more excited. 

Audi ABT-Schaeffler’s Lucas di Grassi, last season’s series runner-up, is among several familiar with the region, having won the Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix in 2005.

“I would love to add Hong Kong to my Macau title,” said the Brazilian. “To be the first ever winner in Hong Kong would be amazing and I hope this race stays for a very long time. 

“It’s such an amazing location and there couldn’t be a better place for a race to happen in Hong Kong.

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“I remember racing in Macau in 2012, I thought it would be amazing to have Formula E in Macau because it’s one of the best tracks in world, but I think this first ever race in Hong Kong is even better.

“My Macau win was very important to my career – on that podium with me were [future Formula One drivers] Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel, we were all kids just starting our careers. 

“I think now Hong Kong can become a very, very important centre for electric motor sport - this is just the first year and it can only grow.”

Ma Qinghua, China’s most successful racecar driver, takes the wheel for Techeetah, a new team this season from the mainland.

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“I’m really happy to race here, as a home race it’s a fantastic location to have Formula E here,” said Ma, who set the fastest lap in the shakedown with Nelson Piquet Jnr (NextEV) second and Sam Bird (Virgin Racing) third. 

“The track is very exciting with a couple of overtaking points and I think the race will see a lot of overtaking.”

Felix Rosenqvist, the reigning two-time Macau champion, is new to the series with Mahindra Racing, and was hoping his considerable success on street circuits would pay off along Lung Wo Road and Man Yiu Street.

“One of the main interests for me in Formula E was the street circuits which has been one of my strengths, obviously in Macau and in Indy Lights,” he said.

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“The track looks incredible, even above my expectation and I’m really look forward to it. It looks really cool, it reminds me more of tracks in America than Macau. It’s very bumpy with a lot of lines, manhole covers, and so on.

“Macau is something very different to everything else, but I’ve raced [street circuits] in Toronto, St Petersburg, the Norisring [in Nuremberg] and it will all help.”

Reigning champion Sebastien Buemi and Di Grassi crashed into each other during the final race of the season in London last term, leaving the title to be decided on a fastest lap bonus point shoot-out and there’s clearly still no love lost.

“No we haven’t [talked about it],” said the Frenchman, sitting right next to his rival. “There’s not much to talk about. Now it’s a new season and we will just focus on doing well.”

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Di Grassi, who had a brief Formula One career, suffered controversial disqualifications in races he won in both the first two seasons of Formula E, costing him the title each time. 

“I don’t have any points to prove to people, the first two seasons I proved already my points,” he said.

“Most of what I have to prove is to myself, I don’t race for others to think good or bad, I race because I like to win and push the limits.”