- Jul 23, 2014
Uruguay's Punta del Este is the site for the third round of the FIA Formula E Championship, taking place this Saturday, at a site that has once hosted rounds of the Argentine TC2000 Championship. While Uruguay is not a well-known country for motorsport in South America, this is a country that is still searching for its next big superstar on the international stage - there is still a stinging pain and an unfilled void left from the loss of the legendary Gonzalo Rodriguez over fifteen years ago - and Punta del Este is one of the premier tourist destinations in South America, situated along the Atlantic coast in the southeastern portion of the country. This picturesque port town is certainly among the most attractive venues on the Formula E calendar, a Latin American version of the azure coast of Monaco. They've even built the pit lane along the ocean front!
The 2.8 kilometer, 20-turn Punta del Este circuit looks to be one of the better layouts on the Formula E calendar. Compared to the Beijing ePrix circuit, which offered very little variety as far as corners are concerned, Punta del Este will combine many long straights and fast-flowing bends that contour along the coast line of the Playa Brava Beach, segmented by a varied mix of slow-speed corners. At first glance, the Punta del Este ePrix Circuit evokes memories of another legendary oceanfront street circuit - Surfer's Paradise in Australia, once a staple of the Indycar Series and Champ Car World Series, now the home of the V8 Supercars' Gold Coast 600.
Mahindra Racing driver Karun Chandhok had this to say about the circuit in the official program:
"Although there are a lot of corners for a relatively short lap, in fact it's really just four chicanes linking long straights, so I think it's going to be a fast layout. We saw in Putrajaya that these cars create a decent tow, which made for plenty of overtaking in T1, and I see no reason why it would be any different here."
"The area where the track is located has recently been resurfaced, so there shouldn't be any issue with bumps, but with almost half the track running next to the coast, there's likely to be quite a lot of sand and dust blown onto the track, like you get in Zandvoort."
"The heavy braking zones should make for a lot of overtaking, although we need to see exactly how wide the track is at these points. These also create plenty of opportunities to lift and coast and regenerate energy."
It was at Putrajaya in Malaysia where Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird drove an absolutely dominant race to claim his first Formula E victory, one year removed from his vice-championship campaign in the 2013 GP2 Series, still searching for a more permanent racing role after spending 2014 bouncing in and out of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship with a quick detour in the IndyCar Series rumor mill before landing in Formula E. While the race for the lead was barely a contest, the on-track battles behind him were exciting and plentiful, contested amongst some of the world's fastest and most credible drivers - a good sign for Formula E in its maiden season.
There are a handful of driver changes for the third race of the season, but none sent more shockwaves up and down the racing world than the arrival of Jean-Eric Vergne at Andretti Formula E. Vergne recently concluded his third season with Scuderia Toro Rosso, setting career highs of 13th in the standings, 22 points, and matching his best finish of 6th in Singapore. It was not enough for Toro Rosso to retain his services for a fourth season, not with highly-rated rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. in the Red Bull Junior Team pipeline, but Vergne will look to Formula E as a chance to further prove his ability in the racing world. Still just 24 years of age, Vergne has openly considered a move to the IndyCar Series for 2015 - a series where team owner Michael Andretti has built a top-flight, championship-caliber organization, and conveniently enough, Andretti has a vacant seat at his IndyCar squad as of today. A strong performance at Punta del Este could put Vergne on pole position for a top IndyCar drive in the near future. He will partner 20-year-old, third-generation star Matthew Brabham, who made his Formula E debut in Putrajaya.
Vergne becomes the fifth driver with Red Bull ties in the field: Reigning World Endurance Champion Sebastien Buemi (e.Dams Renault), as well as former Macau Grand Prix winner and DTM newcomer Antonio Felix da Costa (Amlin Aguri), both served time as Red Bull Racing test drivers in 2014; Virgin Racing's Jaime Alguersuari was ironically displaced by Vergne at Toro Rosso all the way back in the buildup to the 2012 F1 season, and Daniel Abt, who has been on the inside track to the vacant Andretti IndyCar seat for weeks, carries Red Bull sponsorship.
Elsewhere, Amlin Aguri made a change by replacing two-time FanBoost winner Katherine Legge with Salvador Duran, a 29-year-old Mexican driver who was once a race winner in the A1GP Series, but has not raced competitively in two years, and not driven single-seaters since 2010. Legge will be at Daytona International Speedway in a test for the DeltaWing project, but the absence of the popular British driver - once a front-runner in the Atlantic Championship and a competitor in Champ Car, IndyCar, and TUSCC, regrettably means that Trulli GP's Michela Cerruti will be the only woman in the field at Punta del Este. Despite the Fanboost support, Legge has finished a disappointing 15th and 16th in the first two rounds of the championship, and has unfortunately come up short in the search for more competitive pace compared to the field.
Also, China Racing have replaced countryman Ho-Pin Tung with Antonio Garcia, the Spanish ace of the Corvette Racing sports car team. Garcia's stellar sports car career is highlighted with three class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2008, 2009, 2011), overall victory in the 2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and he's by no means an untested novice at single-seaters - in 2000 he was the champion of the 2000 Open Telefonica by Nissan series, the forerunner to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.
Other storylines to follow will be the emerging championship battle brewing between race winners Lucas di Grassi and Sam Bird, who sit at 43 and 40 points respectively - a virtual lightyear ahead of the rest of the field in the championship standings. Popular drivers such as Bruno Senna, Nick Heidfeld, and Jarno Trulli are still searching for their first points of the season, their early-season title hopes crumbling in a deluge of crashes, headlined by Heidfeld's memorable shunt in Beijing with his WEC teammate Nicolas Prost in the final lap. Will the controversial FanBoost vote continue to prove more of a competition-destroying blessing than a curse? Will the in-race EJ follow my advice and play the Temple Run music from the 1990s game show Legends of the Hidden Temple during the mid-race car swaps for esoteric comedic value, or at least ditch the music Formula E has given them and instead play the soundtrack to the original Wipeout game on PS1?
Speaking of Wipeout, anyone else besides me noticing the strong resemblance between the FEISAR team colors and the livery of e.Dams Renault?
The race meeting begins at 8:15 UYST (1015 GMT / 5:15 AM EST) with first practice. Qualifying begins at noon local time (1400 GMT / 9:00 AM EST) as the first of four groups will set their place on the grid, before the race which is scheduled to start at 3:04 PM local time (1804 GMT / 12:04 PM EST). The race distance is 31 laps with one mandatory car change. As per all Formula E events, this is a one-day race meeting.
The race can be seen live on Fox Sports 2 in the United States, ITV4 in the United Kingdom, and streaming online at the official Formula E website. A full guide to Formula E television coverage worldwide can be found here.