David Cheng on Long Beach, the Bird’s Nest and power-on oversteer

Le Mans racing driver David Cheng in action. Image courtesy of Tsutomu Tsuchiya

In the third of our driver opinion columns (following Lucas di Grassi and Alexander Sims), Le Mans racer David Cheng outlines his excitement about Formula E.

“From a driver’s perspective, a spec series for the first year of a championship is very appealing. It will ensure a level playing field for all teams and drivers, especially in this case where development for pure EV racing cars is in its infancy and may be more challenging for certain teams. A spec series will also provide closer competition, which is great for spectators.

I’ve driven electric go karts and your driving style definitely needs to be adjusted. However, for professional racing drivers, altering driving style for electric racing should be no different than getting into any new race car and learning the nuances of that particular vehicle.

The combination of all-weather treaded tires, low downforce and the instant torque of an electric motor creates a recipe for very exciting driving. The Formula E car will behave more like a street car on steroids. Expect to see more slip angle, power-on oversteer and big black marks coming out of corners. 

Formula E will feature street circuits, which have always been very popular for spectators, although less so for drivers given the higher chance of crash damage (no one enjoys paying those bills). These types of circuits tend to bring a party atmosphere and are generally far more accessible. The close proximity of the track to millions of city residents may be enough on its own to draw the crowds.

Driving around Beijing, I don’t see too many EVs around. Air pollution is a big problem here and EVs would be a great solution. But the reason more people aren’t buying EVs yet is there is still a big gap in user convenience compared to ICE cars, in terms of range and recharge time. I believe the Formula E series will bring two key challenges to this disparity. First, racing will help improve technology through competition; second, the championship will raise awareness and increase the “cool factor” of EVs.

China is a growing market for motor racing still and still has some way to go to catch up with Europe, US and Japan. But its popularity is growing fast, and the potential in a country this vast is enormous.

I’d like to see the Formula E circuit centred around the Bird’s Nest stadium and Olympic Park. They were built to hold large scale events and have the infrastructure in place. Plus, I believe that motorsports ought to be part of the Olympics, and racing at the Beijing Olympic Park may help create a closer tie between the two.

In the US, auto racing is mature: the Indy 500 has already surpassed 100 years of history. However, the recent economic climate has caused a decline in a sport which is only beginning to get back on its feet. For loyal fans, the CART split, which pitted Indy Car against Champ Car, and the GTP split into ALMS and Grand-Am, didn’t help either. But now with Indy Car growing again and the merger to create United Sports Car Racing, things are looking up.

In LA, Long Beach is already a great venue as a street race and it has a long standing history with F1, Indy Car and ALMS. But honestly, I would love to race around the Santa Monica Pier area or Hermosa Beach, which are both places that I frequent.  

Next year’s Formula E series is something I would love to explore, given the right opportunity, especially given the fact that China is fielding its own team. The series itself is going to some of the most exciting and iconic cities in the world, including my former home LA and my current home and birthplace, Beijing.

The future is moving towards electric cars, and Formula E may mark a turning point for auto racing history. Personally, it will be a sad day when the last internal combustion engine is gone, and I’m sure petrol-heads around the world will agree with me. But this will also mark the advancement of human achievement and move our world towards a greener and more sustainable future.”

David Cheng has dual US and Chinese citizenship, was born in Beijing, where he’s now based, and lived for many years in LA. He’s raced single seaters and sports cars in a career that spans F2000, Formula Masters, the Scirocco Cup China, the Grand-Am Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge and the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia series. David now drives for the OAK Racing Total team in the inaugural Asian Le Mans Series and is also currently competing in the American Le Mans Series.

Find out more about David here and about OAK racing here.

Photo courtesy of Tsutomu Tsuchiya.

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