Andretti Autosport becomes first American team in Formula E

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Four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champions Andretti Autosport have become the first U.S.-based team set to compete in the FIA Formula E Championship, the all-electric racing category that will debut next season.

According to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press, the Andretti camp plans to create a two-car program for the series, which will compete in 10 cities around the world. The group is now the third team to sign on so far for Formula E’s inaugural campaign, joining China Racing and British-based Drayson Racing.

In comments made to the AP, team owner Michael Andretti said he felt that “relevancy” was becoming an issue for the sport as a whole, which compelled him to take a closer look at Formula E.

“The more we looked into it, the more interested we got,” said Andretti. “We like the relevancy of the series because one of the problems auto racing is starting to face – and is going to face more of in the future – is relevancy.”

“I think relevancy is going to be addressed with the electric cars. It’s a good way to hook our younger audience into racing, and I’m excited to be involved and be involved at the ground floor.”

The Andretti name and its resonance with both casual fans and racing diehards around the world could be a boost for the fledgling Formula E, a series that will feature a unique race format.

With batteries on the Renault-built cars lasting up to 25 minutes at a time, drivers will have to hop out of one car in the pits and run a 100-meter dash to a second, fully-charged car in order to finish the “e-Prix.”

The series has two American stops on its first-year schedule at Miami and Los Angeles, and that made it important for them to get a competitive, “homegrown” outfit on its roster of teams.

“Andretti is a great name in motorsport, and when we launched the championship, we said we wanted to have a geographically diversified grid and for us, the U.S and China are our two key markets in the world,” Formula E Holdings CEO Alejandro Agag told the AP.

“In the U.S., we really need a strong team to lead the way and we think there is no better name than that for America that Andretti. And globally because it’s very American, but at the same time it’s a world-known name.”

In an interesting twist, Fryer writes that Andretti Autosport plans to run one of its cars for the Formula E championship but potentially use the second as a “star car” for well-known drivers.

That could mean appearances in the new category from their stable of IndyCar pilots – defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured), Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and E.J. Viso.

Earlier this spring, Formula E staged a demonstration of its car at Los Angeles’ Staples Center with former Formula One driver Lucas di Grassi at the controls.

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”