July 2017 remains a question mark for North American Formula E dates

Photo: Tony DiZinno

NEW YORK – Next July 2017 figures to be an interesting time in the motorsport calendar given that two new FIA Formula E Championship cities are joining the calendar, the FIA World Endurance Championship returns to action following the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and given that this year, the FIA Formula 1 World Championship had four Grands Prix.

Given the high crossover of FIA WEC drivers into Formula E – roughly half the FE grid is comprised of FIA WEC drivers – it behooves the two series not to clash. FE, as it stands, has three races in July – July 1 in Brussels before the double dip of North American rounds. In season one, Miami and Long Beach ran both in the U.S., but several weeks apart. The same was true this year with Mexico City and Long Beach.

At the moment, though, there is a clash with the Nürburgring FIA WEC race on July 16, same date as the second of two races for the new Montreal ePrix, July 15-16.

According to FIA President Jean Todt, who was in attendance at today’s formal New York City ePrix launch at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, clashes are inevitable.

“I would not call that a conflict,” Todt told NBC Sports this afternoon. “Clearly, there are 52 weeks in the year… and a number of categories of motor racing for the FIA. There is Formula 1, Formula E, (World) endurance, touring car championship, rally, rallycross, Moto Grand Prix, which indirectly linked to FIA… it’s just touching the same kind of crowd. We do have to find the best compromise.”

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport ace Lucas di Grassi, who was on hand for the event as well, expressed the concern over the date clash as it stands because it would affect any and all drivers who compete in both championships.

“Right now, it’s a bad clash for us,” the Brazilian told NBC Sports. “There’s about half of the grid, 10 drivers, so it’s bad with WEC and FE.

“They’ll do the best to avoid it; but if it happens, sooner or later it will happen. Formula E is growing so much. I think for WEC, there’s only 9 weekends per year. For sure there are ways to avoid this clash.”

It was interesting to note today that when the New York City ePrix was formally and officially launched that a specific date was missing, rather than confirmed as July 29-30 as it was originally listed on the calendar back when the season three schedule came out at the season two finale in Battersea Park.

That lack of confirmation on the date is by design, per Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, because there are a lot of moving parts to make a New York City ePrix work.

“We’ll be working with the city very soon on the exact date,” Agag told NBC Sports. “We are working on two or three different weekends in July, from mid-July onwards, so there’s different circumstances we have to sort out. There’s cruise liners, the other races… NASCAR races in the vicinity, which are an important element for the local federation (of note, a Loudon, New Hampshire NASCAR weekend occurs July 14-16). We’ll come up with a date that’s good for the city.”

Agag expanded on it in a separate interview after the end of the formal program.

“The FIA is pretty flexible and pretty helpful. We have to figure out how to put together the restrictions in terms of use of this space because of (cruise) ships, with the other races of NASCAR… ACCUS is very protective of NASCAR dates,” he explained.

“It’s a bit of a puzzle with moving parts. We have one or two options that are pretty good and finalize with the city, then it will be done.”

Montreal, as noted, tentatively slated for July 15-16, and New York are unlikely to feature on back-to-back weeks since both are new events.

“I think they could be back-to-back in season four… but I wouldn’t risk it in season three, because they are both new races,” Agag he said.

“I think both are new and we may find an unexpected obstacle to sort out, and then we’ll make it.”

Dates for all of the above three races mentioned should become clearer following the next meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on Sept. 28, next week, where provisional FIA calendars should come out.

For what it’s worth, the Verizon IndyCar Series has races scheduled on both the Montreal and New York weekends, which would give Andretti Autosport a foothold on both sites at the same time. Montreal is tentatively on the same weekend as IndyCar’s lone Canadian trip of the year in Toronto, while the tentative New York date is on the same weekend as IndyCar’s voyage to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.