The next step

Spacesuit-Media-Dan Bathie-FIA-Formula-E-Hong-Kong-ePrix-October-2016-Mitch Evans Jaguar Racing

From the moment Jaguar announced that it would be entering Formula E in season two, speculation over who would drive for the famous British marque ran wild. Racers throughout motorsport were linked with the two seats at the team, including Formula E’s biggest names, as well as some slightly more crackpot theories which included F1 and WEC personalities.

In the final reckoning, two Formula E rookies will line up on the grid tomorrow for Jaguar’s first race as a works operation in international motorsport since 2004. Adam Carroll, 34 later this month, is a safe pair of hands. His racing record includes the A1 GP title back in 2009 (in 2007 the series was won by Nico Hulkenberg, who would go on to race in F1), and the Irishman has since raced pretty much anything with four wheels, from IndyCar to British GT. 

Carroll’s young team mate is on a different path, however. Having spent a few years in GP2, the single-seater feeder series for F1, the 22-year-old’s move into Formula E is seen as a positive next step of a career thus far bristling with potential but no top-level drive. 

Mitch Evans grabbed headlines back in 2012 when he won the GP3 title in his second year in the series. Previous series winners include current F1 drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas, and the New Zealander looked poised to run up the rungs to share a paddock with his mentor, then-Red Bull F1 driver Mark Webber. 

The next stage was GP2 but it did not quite work out as Evans would have liked. Although he was able to chalk up a number of race wins and finish as high as fourth in the championship, he failed to enjoy the standout season that those in the feeder series often require if they are to make enough of an impression to win an F1 test. 

Evans first flirted with a move out of GP2 at the end of last year when he enjoyed a test in an LMP1 car with Porsche following the WEC season finale in Bahrain. One last shot at GP2 followed, with Campos, but after a difficult start to the year, Evans’ mind was made up: he wanted to join Formula E.

“I had been at my management to approach Formula E teams because I’ve been quite interested in the championship,” Evans told me. “It’s professional, it’s a very high level, it’s the future of motor racing. Then, once Jaguar got involved, I jumped at it and fortunately did a good enough job at the test for them to choose me. It’s a bit surreal at the moment but I’m really excited by the opportunity and lining myself up with a works team.”

This is Evans’ big break. He has never raced for a works operation before, let alone one the size of Jaguar. There are definitely expectations to meet, even if the team is brand new and making its return to the highest level after so long away. While the enormity of the opportunity is not lost on him, Evans is taking it all in his stride.

“It’s a bit of a dream for me. I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead and to be racing some of the top drivers in the world as well,” Evans said. “It’s all come in a bit quick for me, a lot to soak up, but I’m excited for the season to start.”

Evans shared the first week of collective preseason testing at Donington Park with Harry Tincknell and Alex Lynn, the trio driving for a day each to compete to partner Adam Carroll for Jaguar’s return. Evans did a good enough job to get the second week in the car all to himself before officially being unveiled as a Jaguar driver a day after the second preseason test finished. 

Driving a Formula E car is no mean feat. It is unlike any other racing car on the planet, with all kinds of its different modes and settings to learn, no engine noise to help the driver understand when to shift or not, weight distribution alien from other cars and very little track time with which to learn the tight, unforgiving street tracks.

Evans feels he’s got to grips with things quickly, though. “I feel at home, it feels like home now which is always a good thing for a driver,” Evans told me at the team’s official launch at Gaydon. “Obviously in a race situation, we’re completely green [new] with that. But in terms of driving the car I feel comfortable. Between Adam and I, I think we’re making some good progress with the car. It’s been a lot to adapt to because the technique of driving the car is completely different from anything I’ve ever driven. From that side, it’s been really exciting. It’s so new, the technology. To be able to be part of that is very special for a driver.”

Evans sees the move into Formula E as the next step of his racing career after spending four years in GP2. To him, it is not the side-step as many may perceive it to be. To him, it’s progression, with huge scope for the future.

“I’m ready to depart GP2,” Evans said. “It hasn’t gone overly well for me. This is a great way to have a fresh start and I’m really excited by the future of the championship. I’m hoping it’s going to be really good and to line myself up with some drivers I used to race in GP3 since I’ve been in Europe. It’s exciting to see us all here. I think all the drivers at our sort of level realise how professional the championship is and the potential of it. We all want to be involved and it’s great that all the teams are at a very high level. It turns junior formula drivers such as myself into professionals. It’s such a professional championship. For all of us to be here and see where it’s going to lead to is really exciting.”

Evans and Webber are often spotted at tracks together. Webber was even at Donington with Evans when he enjoyed his first test, and gave the series his blessing. That’s serious credit from a F1 race winner and WEC champion. “He’s really excited for me to come into Formula E and with Jaguar as well with his history with the team,” Evans said of the widely-respected Australian racer. “He’s really happy I’m in a professional seat and not involved in all the politics involved with the F1 world. He’s really happy for me.”

Like many in Formula E already do, Evans is open to dovetailing his commitments with a drive in the WEC: “I’d love to line another category up parallel to this. Obviously they don’t clash, most of the drivers do that anyway. I would love to do that. There are only a couple of championships that allow you. We’ll see. At the moment this is my main priority. If I can find something else, that would be great, in the WEC or whatever it is. At the moment I’m focusing on this and soaking in the new opportunity, and then I’ll go from there.”

Does Evans see a long-term future in Formula E? “I’d like to think so,” he said. “I’m really excited by the championship and the way it’s going to head. This technology is the future, and I want to be part of it, to start it with Jaguar. I’ll hope to have a long relationship with the company. I’m excited to see what the future holds. Hopefully I’ll do a good enough job to stay around. My goals are to stay here.”

And how about goals for the forthcoming weekend? Expectations are high for Jaguar’s debut but, for Evans, the priority is learning.

“I just want to learn to be honest,” he said. “We’re still very, very new as a team. I’ve only had a few days in the car, up against guys that have done a few seasons. So we’re really up against it, but the main thing for me is just to learn and gather as much info as possible for Marrekesh and for the rest of the series. It’s all happened quite last-minute for me but also once it’s got locked away, the days become longer unfortunately because you just want it to happen so much. So it’s great to finally be here in Hong Kong with Panasonic Jaguar Racing, and to start our Formula E journey together.”

Tomorrow marks a new chapter for Mitch Evans, for Jaguar Racing and for Formula E. With major brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes rushing to join in, a sport barely two years old is now being seen by junior drivers as a credible top-level career alternative to the likes of F1, WEC and IndyCar. For how many more will Formula E be the next, and ultimate, step?

Luke Smith

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