Top speed & slipstreaming: What Formula E drivers & teams expect from debut on Portland International Raceway
With the Portland E-Prix, Formula E is entering new territory next weekend (June 24). The permanent, flowing race track not only demands a different driving style from the drivers, but also poses challenges for the teams' strategy departments. The unanimous opinion before the USA race: The next "slipstream battle" with high top speeds and lots of lead changes is imminent.
Formula E has been a regular guest in the USA since its inception in 2014. After races in Miami (1), Long Beach (2) and most recently five appearances in New York, the electric series will premiere this weekend at Portland International Raceway (PIR). The circuit is familiar to many U.S. motorsports fans, as it regularly hosts the IndyCar Series, among others.
While PIR is an everyday venue for most other racing series, it is an exception to the Formula E racing calendar. "The track looks very unusual for a Formula E circuit. We're not used to racing like this," predicts McLaren driver Rene Rast. Nissan team boss Tommaso Volpe explains, "Portland will be an interesting one as it's not a street circuit.."
"The layout is unlike anything we have seen in Formula E," says his Maserati counterpart James Rossiter. "It has a high number of fast, sweeping corners, but very few braking zones." Jaguar technical director Phil Charles explains why the latter point in particular is important: "Making sure our drivers are ready to brake from very high speed will be key." At the same time, he says, the track is home to the longest straight in the 2023 season.
"Perhaps the most strategic race of the year"
"Fans can expect to see us racing at high speeds, especially in qualifying," Charles continued. "Following that straight is the combined Turn 10 and Turn 11 complex. The section of track from Turns 4 to 7 is also a big challenge and will be a very technical part of the track for both the drivers and the engineering team."
Energy saving will once again play a central role in Portland - actually everyone involved agrees on that. "Grip will likely be higher and it's going to be interesting on the energy-saving side, possibly the most strategic race of the year," says Nissan driver Norman Nato. "Thanks to the long straights and the wide track, especially in turns 1, 7 and 10, there will be a few opportunities to overtake."
Another aspect goes hand in hand with the energy intensity factor in this Formula E season: the great importance of slipstreaming. "I expect a similar level of slipstream driving as in Berlin," explains Max Günther. Jaguar manager Charles sees it the same way and promises a "really tactical race, so expect to see lots of slipstreaming and overtakes."
"Leading might not be the best strategy"
"Leading might not be the best strategy," says Nissan driver Sacha Fenestraz. Accordingly, slipstreaming is an important lever for making the best use of the available energy in the battery - but not the only one. "Setting the car up to suit this track will be a challenge and we are looking at the best way to be efficient and quick around this circuit," said Nissan team principal Volpe of the expected difficulty to tune the car in for Portland, "making strategy extremely important."
With the show in mind, the drivers are certainly looking forward to the weekend. "We expect a lot of close action and numerous exciting overtaking maneuvers," says Rast. Fellow countryman Günther agrees: "Portland looks very fast, and the fluid track layout will have a big impact on race strategy and racing style, but I'm enjoying this challenge." His teammate Edo Mortara also looks forward to a "new element to the style of racing."
Much thus speaks for a spectacular first Portland E-Prix. Due to the time difference between North America and Europe, the 1st Free Practice will take place at 2 a.m. (CEST) on Friday night (live on e-Formula.news). 24 hours later, racing starts for Formula E in Oregon.
Portland International Raceway - Formula E track with tradition
Portland International Raceway officially reopened in the 1970s after lying fallow for several decades. A major flood had left devastation and only roads in the current track area, which was subsequently only used as a race track during Portland's famous "Rose Festival."
For 1975, the track was developed into a venue for professional motorsports when the Trans-Am Series competed there for the first time. In the decades that followed, the CART Series and NASCAR Truck Series were added. Events at the track dwindled significantly in the 2000s and 2010s, but most recently it again developed into a desirable venue for the IndyCar and NASCAR Xfinity Series.
At 3.221 kilometers, the circuit is one of the longest Formula E has ever raced on. The track differs slightly from the IndyCar Series version, as Formula E and the FIA decided to extend the first turn by 20 meters - possibly to avoid direct lap-time comparisons - and make changes to the layout of Turn 7.