“Long Beach is a track that’s been used many times before, for IndyCar, so everyone will know it a bit better than the other tracks we’ve race on so far in Formula E,” says Sam Bird, the British driver who is currently third in the Formula E drivers’ championship.
The route that will be used this Saturday for the sixth round of the season is not quite the same as the traditional circuit, however. Just as at Monaco, the other historic racing venue on the first year’s calendar, Long Beach has been tweaked to make it shorter and more suitable to the performance of the Spark-Renaults, which are torquey but top speed-limited.
That Long Beach is an established and understood entity should make for a more accurate understanding of its characteristics, Bird believes, which in turn should make preparatory simulator work more useful this time round and allow the drivers to feel more confident, more quickly.
“Everyone will know this one a bit better,” says the chap with a jaw that could launch a thousand razor adverts. “We can understand the tarmac quite well because it’s been run before.”
So what can we expect from the track? “Turns one and two form a fast chicane, before you hit 90 degree right handers at turns three, four and five,” Bird explains. “Turn six is a sweeping left into seven, which is a really tight right hander, so getting your line right through there will be key. It’s a track that should make for close qualifying and even closer racing.”
The layout of the seven turn circuit will mean strategy is key, says Bird: “It’s quite a short track, like Miami, so it’ll be tough on energy use, especially if there’s no safety car.”
The safety car had been out in every race until Formula E’s last outing in Miami, but Bird thinks it will inevitably pop up again this time. “The track is typically very bumpy, especially down the main straight,” he says. “The potential for a safety car is higher at this track than in Miami. I don’t think we’ll get too many races without a safety car: on street circuits, there’s just nowhere for cars to go off safely.”
The format of the day has been altered for Saturday’s event, with three 25min practice sessions instead of the usual 45min plus half an hour. That may make for more congested running on track during those sessions, especially given that all drivers and teams will want to take a significant step forward from Miami and this is the only chance to try out new set up approached,
The driver roster remains unchanged for this race, giving the three newbies – Speed, Duval and Liuzzi – a chance to cement their early strong performances. It’s a pack that should make for an unparalleled display of racing, Bird thinks.
“Looking at that grid, there’s not a single name that you could say is not a top driver,” he says. “I can’t think of another grid, anywhere else, that boasts that many good drivers. It’s a great advertisement for Formula E.”