Hot New Thing

Hong Kong boasts 7.4 million people and two motorsport circuits. One is for radio control cars, the other exists for just 1 weekend a year. Steve Vermeulen joins Panasonic Jaguar Racing to understand how Formula E is helping change the face of motorsport as we know it.

At 49, Naomi Campbell, has lost precisely none of her celebrity horsepower. The iconic supermodel struts with an intensity and purpose that commands the attention of all within reach; the crowd (myself included) is awestruck.

Speaking of horsepower, the grid-walk ahead of Hong Kong’s Formula E race (or E-prix if you’re across the lingo) is as much motorsport fan paradise as it is a thousand viral Instagram posts in the making.

Kiwi racer Mitch Evans recently delivered Jaguar's first international motorsport victory since 1991.

This isn’t motorsport as I know it. I’m old-school, seduced over the years by the intoxicating fumes of traditional motor racing; the speed and the sounds. But I’m also buoyed with excitement about where Formula E and electric vehicle racing – still in its infancy – are set to take the sport. 

As far as motorsport brands go, Jaguar’s pedigree is without question. Its multiple wins at Le Mans (their first in 1951, their last in 1990) made legends of the XK, C-type and D-type models. They dominated saloon racing and, in Formula 1 they helped forge the careers of Eddie Irvine, Martin Brundle and Mark Webber.

Then, after over a decade away from factory racing, Jaguar put all their energy (pun intended) into Formula E. Their arrival back on-track was 2016. And this year, they’ve also created the Jaguar I-PACE eTrophy support category. That renewed commitment and 100% focus on electric racing is most definitely a strategic nod to their road car R&D as well. Make no mistake, innovations proven here will be seen on the road in coming years.

 

Kiwis are quickly proving to be the most accepting of Jaguar’s electrification strategy. We’re seen as a key market for Jaguar’s first EV on sale, the I-Pace. New Zealand customer orders unbelievably exceed those in much larger markets such as Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Playing no small part in that success are Mitch and Simon Evans. The two Auckland-born brothers and sons of Kiwi motorsport legend, Owen Evans, race in Formula E and the I-PACE eTrophy respectively. In fact, at the time of writing, Mitch has delivered Jaguar's first international motorsport victory since 1991, while Simon is third in the I-PACE championship with a Formula E testing opportunity within reach.

In my experience the Evans brothers have always come across as totally unflappable guys. But seeing them operate in Hong Kong is a real eye-opener. Their global travel itinerary is hectic enough; then add throngs of Asia-Pacific media throwing microphones and cameras in their faces, selfie-seeking fans, PR duties, track walks, compressed timings for basically everything and then the not-insignificant pressure of delivering results on a street circuit in torrential rain… my respect for them both is renewed.

On the track, the action is surprisingly captivating. Formula E may not be as fast as F1 yet (Formula E cars are currently governed to 225km/h, although capable of much higher speeds) but in the wet, it’s eminently more entertaining to watch.

Mitch, precise and intentional, Simon effervescent and jovial. Both are working their arses off. The Mt Wellington kart track is a very long way from where they are now.

Electric vehicles deliver 100% of their torque instantaneously. A Formula E car weighs just 800kg. They don’t run enormous tyres and the motor spins to over 17,000 rpm. They are brutally tail happy. I’m watching half motor race, half drifting exhibition. And it’s a fantastic show.

Not a motorsport fan? Who cares, right? Well, perhaps you should. All Formula E races are held on the streets of the most unlikely city centres on Earth. Rome, London, Santiago, Marrakesh, Sanya and of course Hong Kong. Auckland has a potential viaduct Formula E circuit map laid out and there’s a strong push underway to bring Formula E to New Zealand. The reality of it happening is much less of a pipe dream as you might think.

“We race in New York, in Paris, here in Hong Kong," Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag told Kiwi media when we collared him in pit lane.

"I’ve seen the proposed layout and venue, to have Auckland on that list would be great, but we have a lot of cities knocking on the door. If it is to happen, we need to act quickly,” he said.

There’s a very real opportunity to showcase New Zealand as a forward-thinking, vibrant locale to global TV viewers. Compared with other forms of racing, Formula E is relatively noiseless, allowing for a unique party atmosphere that attracts a bevy of new audiences to the sport, like millennial Insta’ influencers. Oh, and the occasional supermodel too, like Naomi Campbell.

If my time with Panasonic Jaguar Racing in Hong Kong has shown me one thing, it’s that this is the new face of motorsport. And I love it.

Words by Steve Vermeulen

Photos by Panasonic Jaguar Racing 

2019 Jaguar I-PACE

2019 Jaguar I-PACE$159,990

2019 Jaguar XF

2019 Jaguar XF$69,990

2015 Jaguar XF

2015 Jaguar XF$31,990

2017 Jaguar XF

2017 Jaguar XF$69,990

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