Three more IndyCar Series competitors – four-time Champ Car titleholder (and new Rolex 24 champion) Sebastien Bourdais, J.R. Hildebrand, and Oriol Servia – are part of a new group of eight drivers that have joined the Formula E Drivers’ Club.
The trio now join fellow IndyCar veterans Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato in the Club, which is made up of competitors that “officially endorse” the all-electric racing series and are willing to race in it in the future.
Also part of the latest group of Club members are former Formula One drivers Narain Karthikeyan, Bruno Senna, Christijan Albers and Franck Montagny, as well as German up-and-comer Daniel Abt (whose father, Hans-Jurgen Abt, is team principal for the Audi Sport Abt team in F-E).
Bourdais is also an F1 alum, as he raced for Scuderia Toro Rosso for 27 Grand Prix races across 2008 and 2009.
“Formula E is a really exciting project and a really big innovation in motor racing,” said Bourdais, who will compete for KV Racing-SH in the upcoming IndyCar season.
“You don’t get to be a part of such technological advances very often in a career. I would be extremely happy to discover the car and begin racing next September, and I believe the best way to achieve that is to be part of the Drivers’ Club.”
Servia, who split his 2013 IndyCar season between the Panther DRR and main Panther teams, also touched upon the technological aspect of F-E in his comments.
“I have followed the Formula E developments from the very beginning with great interest,” he said. “I have loved the sport all my life and I am a firm believer that racing not only provides superb entertainment for the fans but also plays a big part in how technology will progress and improve everybody’s daily quality of living.
“Formula E will entertain and become a worldwide platform to showcase the advances in electric vehicles. I am proud to be a part of the Drivers’ Club.”
While the 10 individual teams will still have the final say on who drives for them, here’s an updated list of Drivers’ Club members that you may see on the F-E grid come this fall and into 2015:
Daniel Abt (GER)
Christijan Albers (NLD)
Marco Andretti (USA)
Sébastien Bourdais (FRA)
Sebastien Buemi (CHE)
Karun Chandhok (IND)
Lucas di Grassi (BRA)
J.R. Hildebrand (USA)
Ma Qing Hua (CHN)
Narain Karthikeyan (IND)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA)
Franck Montagny (FRA)
Takuma Sato (JPN)
Bruno Senna (BRA)
Oriol Servia (ESP)
Adrien Tambay (FRA)
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”