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A practice session gets under way on Saturday at the opening of the Formula E weekend. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Formula E rolls onto Hong Kong streets for second time, but crowds take time to spark up

Organisers confident of strong attendance numbers on Sunday after 20,000 tickets dished out for free for races around downtown streets of Central

Formula E

The Hong Kong leg of the Formula E world championship rolled onto the streets of Central with organisers positive that crowds would be equally as strong as Saturday’s attendance.

Alan Fang, chief executive officer of Formula Electric Racing (Hong Kong) Limited, said about 87 per cent tickets had been sold and he expects Sunday’s race to be well attended, too.

“To date, over 87 per cent of tickets have been sold and today’s attendance was on par with last year’s opening day, with crowd sizes steadily increasing from noon onwards ahead of the main race start at 3pm,” said Fang. “We expect tomorrow’s attendance to be equally strong.

“We are very pleased with the first day of the Hong Kong E-Prix. The reactions we have received from the fans and Formula E have been uniformly positive.”

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However, on Saturday morning, the atmosphere was no match for that seen at similar events in Singapore and Japan, racegoers said, despite 20,000 tickets having been dished out for free.

Many criticised the “ridiculous” prices for seats in the grandstand overlooking the city’s second electric car street race, while others said the venue lacked proper signage and had forced them to take long detours to reach their destinations.

The first day of the event largely went off without a hitch on Saturday, but a man was arrested after he allegedly flew a drone over the racetrack in breach of local aviation laws.

After drawing a mixed reaction last year, the Hong Kong stop in the Formula E calendar promised double the amount of action this time around, with two races over two days.

Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi drives for Renault E-Dams. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

But despite perfect weather and the picturesque backdrop of Victoria Harbour, the crowds did not warm up quickly on Saturday morning for arguably the city’s second-biggest annual sporting event after the Hong Kong Sevens.

Only about 1,000 people were spotted at the event’s E-Village in Tamar.

More came after lunchtime, ahead of the main race at 3pm, but the number was still a far cry from the 10,000 free tickets distributed for the zone for each of the two days, which let people watch the race on big screens, meet drivers and visit racing-themed booths.

Last year racing fans had to pay HK$300 to enter the E-Village.

Fans at the E-Village on Saturday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Those who wished to watch the race from the grandstand on Saturday had to pay between HK$2,380 and HK$2,880, or up to HK$4,780 for a two-day ticket.

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Among the audience was Marco Chu, who received complimentary tickets.

He said there was no way he would pay the prices being asked to watch the E-Prix.

The Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education’s Sophie VI solar car on the track on Saturday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

“It’s worth HK$200 at most,” said the racing fan, who felt he had attended “much better” races in Japan and Singapore.

He also said the venue on the Central harbourfront was too fragmented.

“I had to exit the venue, walk a big circle, then go through another bag check to get to the E-Village,” he lamented.

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His views were shared by another attendee, Yick, who said more signs were needed to guide crowds.

Those who wished to watch the race from the grandstand this year had to pay between HK$2,380 and HK$2,880. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Some without tickets took their creativity to task by finding vantage points around the venue, including the rooftop garden at IFC Mall, which boasted panoramic views of the racetrack.

But one man went too far by flying a drone over the track, and the 34-year-old was later arrested by police on the roof of a nearby car park.

Three people were caught doing the same thing last year. They were later charged with endangering persons or property, which can incur up to two years in prison.