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Portland’s extreme pack racing divides Formula E driver opinion

The extreme energy-saving and close-quarters pack racing seen on Formula E’s first visit to Portland last weekend has drawn a mixed reaction from the all-electric series’ drivers.

Nick Cassidy, Envision Racing, Antonio Felix da Costa, Porsche

Photo by: Andreas Beil

Portland’s atypical track layout, featuring mostly fast corners and few heavy braking zones, meant drivers faced tight energy-saving requirements, effectively forcing them to circulate far off their real pace in the first two-thirds of the race before upping the pace.

Lap times were as much as 10 to 12 seconds slower than the pole time set by Jake Dennis initially, leading to constant position changes and scenes of cars running side-by-side as drivers jostled for position without using too much energy.

Nissan’s Sacha Fenestraz, who lost any chance of a strong result after damaging his front wing following early contact with team-mate Norman Nato, was one of the most vocal in his opposition to the style of racing seen in Portland, highlighting Nico Muller’s crash while racing in the pack.

“So many things were happening, I had no clue where I was in terms of position,” Fenestraz told Motorsport.com. “At times we were five, even six-wide. It was not an enjoyable race.

“I’m not a fan, it’s just too dangerous. We saw what happened to Nico, it was a huge crash. Luckily he didn’t come back on the track with another car coming. 

“We are coming next year again, but hopefully we can change some things.”

Dan Ticktum, NIO 333 FE Team, NIO 333 ER9, Maximilian Gunther, Maserati Racing, Maserati Tipo Folgore, Jake Hughes, McLaren, e-4ORCE 04, Robin Frijns, ABT CUPRA Racing, M9Electro

Dan Ticktum, NIO 333 FE Team, NIO 333 ER9, Maximilian Gunther, Maserati Racing, Maserati Tipo Folgore, Jake Hughes, McLaren, e-4ORCE 04, Robin Frijns, ABT CUPRA Racing, M9Electro

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

DS Penske driver Stoffel Vandoorne was similarly unimpressed, adding: “It was very messy out there, it’s hard to call it racing at some points when you are four-wide on every straight.”

Pascal Wehrlein, who lost the lead of the championship to Dennis over the course of the weekend, said he could tolerate occasional Portland-style races so long as it doesn’t become the norm for the series.

“I think a couple of races, two or three a year, is maybe entertaining,” the Porsche driver told Motorsport.com. “But if it’s like this every race, why are we even doing qualifying? 

“I guess it was entertaining, but I just hope not every race will be like this.”

Race winner Nick Cassidy was among the drivers to make more positive comments, having previously come out on top in similar, albeit less extreme, energy-saving contests in Berlin and Monaco prior to this third victory of the season.

“For me it was pretty exciting,” said Cassidy. “It was hard, you had to be on it in every straight, every braking zone, and in qualifying the track was quite exciting to drive.

“I think it’s nice that not all the tracks are like this but one or two like this is ok.”

Antonio Felix da Costa, one of Cassidy’s rivals in the battle for the win, said he was encouraged by the strong fan turnout for Formula E’s inaugural Portland visit, admitting he wasn’t sure how a more traditional motorsport audience would receive the series.

“When we raced in New York, it doesn’t have a big motorsport history so we did well with the four or five years we went there,” said da Costa. “Here in Portland, these guys are more ‘petrolheads’, IndyCar races here, and the turnout was amazing. 

“So many people came and I’m positively surprised. I’m sure when we come back next year it will be even more.”

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