‘Phantom chicane’ controversy complicates Portland FE build-up

‘Phantom chicane’ controversy complicates Portland FE build-up


The track configuration at the Portland Formula E circuit was due to be radically changed during next weekend's E-Prix doubleheader, but a dramatic U-turn means it has been abandoned.

The original version of the IndyCar stadium will now be used again, according to FE's 2023 Portland debut.

They were to enter a temporary chicane complex after the final chicane and exit near the pit lane reliever barrier before heading onto the long main track – as shown on the track map below which was issued to the teams for their preparation work.

The modification was carried out by the FIA, which sent track data for simulation purposes earlier this month. The majority of teams had completed or were completing their preparations this week before news of the change of heart officially came out this morning.

The race revealed that questions about the rationality and safety of change led to sudden rethinking.

The corner could have had a major impact on the style of racing at the circuit, which was the scene of the first energy-saving Formula E race last year.

The series saw 403 overtaking moves, but the nature of the race – with most drivers just passing as they lifted and descended while trying to avoid being at the front of the pack because they wanted to save energy in the streams of others – was controversial.

Before abandoning the corner, an FIA spokesperson justified it to the race as “building on lessons learned from 2023” and “to make it more special in Formula E and allow further renewal to take place”.

It was a nod to Portland's fast, flowing layout where only the opening corner complex provided ample energy replenishment opportunities for the cars.

The theory was that the introduction of the Chicane would have alleviated the problem of lift, coast and pack racing.

The now-cancelled new procedure has been met with mixed comments by Formula E drivers, with Apt Cobra's Lucas di Grassi questioning the exact location of the chicane in particular.

“In my view, it makes no sense for any reason to have a U-turn at the entrance to the barn,” Di Grassi told The Race before the U-turn was announced.

“It will lead to more accidents, more complications, more traffic in qualifying. I don't like that at all.”

The racing team understands that di Grassi and his Formula E Circuit Advisory Committee colleagues Antonio Felix da Costa and Olivier Rowland have not been contacted regarding the chicane situation.

“We initially considered implementing a chicane on the Portland layout based on our simulations and learnings from 2023,” an FIA statement issued to The Race today said.

“But after further analysis and feedback from the teams, we found that the proposed changes and workarounds would not be feasible or fully comply with our safety requirements and therefore will not be implemented.”

The latest fast right-hander at Portland was one of last season's challenges as drivers pushed their cars closer and closer to the wall on the exit, although di Grassi felt the chicane would not completely spoil this.

Andretti's Jake Dennis was more positive about the Chicane plan, saying the extra revamp would have made it less of a manic race in the style of the peloton than last season.

“Ultimately, I think it will mean we will save less energy because turns like that will provide a significant recharging process that will help with energy management,” Dennis told The Race before today's turn.

The drivers were due to have their first experience of the new-look track with an initial shakedown session next Friday before the first free practice shortly after. They will now revert to the old data or organize new sim sessions for the remainder of this week around the original track map.

Race says…

Sometimes the FIA ​​must feel damned if it does, damned if it doesn't when it comes to striking the right balance between layouts and power allocation to create the perfect Formula E race.

The planned new turn at Portland seemed unnecessarily close to the pit entrance. It is also likely to have created flashpoints with drivers trying to create gaps for fast laps, something which already contributed to Nick Cassidy's serious accident at Misano earlier this season.

It's hard to find a middle ground between chaotic pack races full of meaningless passes and head-to-head competition that rewards a hierarchy of merit but offers little transcendence.

The racemakers clearly had no success in the first round in Mexico City, which saw little action and contributed to the opening of 2024.

In Diriyah a few weeks later, it was a little better but it was still very difficult to achieve real overtakes (not the insignificant ones promoted by Formula E).

The car racing craze is back in São Paulo with a vengeance. Although it was the warm temperatures that contributed to one of the best Formula E finals ever, the combination of energy saving and real racing was very good.

The following races at Misano were again very energy efficient in the early exchanges. But with a discrepancy in laps between the Saturday and Sunday events, it was the latter that just turned into a sensible race rather than the crazy topolla full of chance and connection like Saturday's pandemonium.

Monaco was comparatively more straightforward and simple, while Berlin was the inevitable power-saving fest, although it did result in reduced power time in attack mode due to concerns about the duty cycle of spec batteries.

This was important and was also carried over to last month's Shanghai races, which again featured a fair amount of contact and bitter reprimanding, thanks mostly to usable power, track configuration and the location of the accordion-inducing chicane at the end. Of the lap.

The RESS batteries supplied by Fortescue WAE, formerly Williams Advanced Engineering, still raise concerns, as they will be in demand for another two seasons after this campaign and clearly require at least a comprehensive upgrade.

Regardless, the final and likely decisive weekend in London in mid-July is likely to involve a much larger element of straight racing and is likely to reward those who qualify well.

For now, Portland will offer the same lift-and-coast challenge as it did in 2023. The new (now old) turn that will potentially change the race will be saved only in drivers' simulator memories.

It was an embarrassing saga for the FIA, no doubt, and not really befitting a world championship. Teams and drivers have wasted valuable time and resources preparing for the corner design in the last 10 days or so while also trying to juggle the ongoing development of their Gen3 Evo packages.

This means the configuration of the Portland track will remain a point of discussion, which is somewhat ironic given that it will host Formula E races for the final time next weekend. It usurps the Homestead track near Miami to become the new home of Formula E in the United States from 2025.



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