Miami ePrix Preview: U.S. set to host electric open-wheel series for first time (VIDEO)

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MIAMI – The FIA Formula E Championship heads to the United States for the first time this weekend, adding Miami to the list of high-profile cities the all-electric open-wheel championship has visited.

As you’d expect, there are a number of logistical challenges to sort out to launch a one-day event. The championship is working with the city to close the streets in the high volume, high traffic area ahead of Saturday’s race.

Having been to the Baltimore and Houston IndyCar street races in recent years, there’s elements of those two events currently at play. Notably, the concrete barriers are ready but yet to be placed, as was the case in Baltimore. The media center is on the arena floor at the American Airlines Arena, a spacious environment and the media center equivalent of Houston’s on steroids.

Andretti Sports Marketing, which helped salvage the Baltimore race in 2012 and 2013, is event promoter this weekend and has been flat out on the process, as you’d expect.

There’s also the question of how this race will play to the locals. As FIA Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag has told this writer in the past, this race hits one of the two biggest markets FE expects to hit in the United States. China is the second. Local promotion is evident on the local news, and there seems to be a buzz – no pun intended – based on some of the pre-race events the organizers have assembled this week.

A video of Agag on CNBC is linked below (and here, separately).

Still, what will make the weekend here is the racing, and thus far through four races, there’s been no shortage of storylines or potential winners.

There have been four different winers, four different polesitters and four different drivers who have set fastest lap thus far.

Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT) leads the championship with 58 points, ahead of Sam Bird (Virgin Racing) on 48 and the e.dams teammates of Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Prost on 43 and 42, respectively. The e.dams totals have that team leading the Team’s Championship by 11 over Virgin, 85-74.

Drivers have full power available in practice and qualifying (200 kw/270 bhp) before the number is reduced for the race (150 kw/202.5 bhp), although the drivers that win FanBoost can be temporarily increased to 180kw / 243bhp for 5 secs per car.

How each drivers maximizes the power at their disposal and transitions from qualifying to the race is one of the things to watch. Additionally, how long each drivers pushes his or her battery life in the first portion of the race will determine who emerges ahead by the end of 39-lap race. Bird, for example, was peerless at Round 2 in Malaysia en route to the most dominating win thus far in the first four races.

Points are awarded in standard FIA scoring as in F1, with 25 for the win down to one for 10th place. The polesitter scores three points and the driver who sets the fastest lap, two.

But chances are the racing will be close, down to the wire. The series opener in China ended with the last-lap accident between Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost and Lucas di Grassi on top, and last race in Argentina saw Antonio Felix da Costa emerge victorious following a series of calamities that affected the other contenders.

The unpredictability is off the charts, as are the number of potential winners.

There have also been four race-to-race driver changes since Argentina. Scott Speed will fly the flag as the lone U.S. driver, filling in for Marco Andretti at Andretti Autosport. Meanwhile Charles Pic (China Racing) will return for the first time since the season opener in China, and Loic Duval (Dragon Racing) and Vitantonio Liuzzi (Trulli) make their series debuts.

In total, 14 of the 20 drivers racing this weekend have past F1 experience (all except Bird, Duval, da Costa, Daniel Abt, Salvador Duran and, interestingly, Prost). So the caliber of field is deep all the way through.

Here’s the entry for the weekend, with teams ranked by current points totals:

  • e.dams (85 points): 9-Sebastien Buemi (43 points, 3rd in points), 8-Nicolas Prost (42, 4th)
  • Virgin (74): 2-Sam Bird (48, 2nd), 3-Jaime Alguersuari (26, 7th)
  • Audi Sport ABT (66): 11-Lucas di Grassi (58, 1st), 66-Daniel Abt (4, 17th)
  • Andretti Autosport (41): 27-Jean-Eric Vergne (11, 15th), 28-Scott Speed (first race)
  • Dragon Racing (38): 7-Jerome d’Ambrosio (22, 8th), 6-Loic Duval (first race)
  • China Racing (37): 99-Nelson Piquet Jr. (37, 5th), 88-Charles Pic (12, 14th; first race w/team)
  • Mahindra Racing (36): 5-Karun Chandhok (18, 10th), 21-Bruno Senna (18, 11th)
  • Amlin Aguri (31): 55-Antonio Felix da Costa (29, 6th), 77-Salvador Duran (0, 26th)
  • Trulli GP (12): 10-Jarno Trulli (12, 13th), 18-Vitantonio Liuzzi (first race)
  • Venturi (8): 23-Nick Heidfeld (5, 16th), 30-Stephane Sarrazin (3, 18th)