High-performance electric vehicle manufacturer Venturi Automobiles is joining forces with actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio to enter a racing team in the the new FIA Formula E Championship – the world’s first fully-electric race series. Beginning in September 2014, Formula E drivers will compete on city street circuits in a series the FIA hopes will appeal to a new generation of motorsports fans while accelerating the EV market.
Ten two-driver teams will go head-to-head in eight major cities around the world, including Beijing, Los Angeles, London and Buenos Aires, using electric single-seater race cars capable of speeds in excess of 140 miles per hour.
“The future of our planet depends on our ability to embrace fuel-efficient, clean-energy vehicles,” DiCaprio said in a prepared statement. “Venturi Grand Prix has shown tremendous foresight in their decision to create an environmentally friendly racing team, and I am happy to be a part of this effort.”
The team is centered around Venturi, a global leader in high-performance EVs and the current holder of the world land speed record for an electric vehicle with 307 miles per hour. Venturi founder Gildo Pallanca Pastor, who co-founded the Formula E team with DiCaprio, said the race series gives the EV manufacturer “the fantastic opportunity to further improve our advanced technologies through motorsport, as well as compete all over the world.”
Based in Monaco, the new Venturi Grand Prix Formula E team joins international names from around the globe such as Andretti Autosport and Virgin Racing, which is backed by Sir Richard Branson. The team plans to become a constructor in the series’ second season by building a Formula E car based on its 3,000 horsepower electric streamliner. In addition to participating in next season’s series, Venturi hopes to set a new world record of 435 miles per hour with the forthcoming vehicle by 2015.
While Formula E racing is sure to be a hit with electric vehicle proponents, it remains to be seen how racing enthusiasts will react. At the second annual Accelerating Sustainable Performance Summit last year, TriplePundit contributor Travis Noland reported that tried-and-true racing fans had mixed feelings about EV auto racing. Marshall Pruett of SPEED.com even went as far as to say that, “You race to win, not to be sustainable.”
Despite the grievances of some old-school racing fans, most experts seem to agree that auto racing can play at least a supplementary role in accelerating the development of electric vehicles. London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose city will host a leg of the inaugural series, called zero emissions motor racing a “scintillating concept,” adding that it has the potential to highlight the “impressive strides” being made in electric vehicle manufacturing.
Scot Elkins of the American Le Mans Series and the International Motor Sports Association may have captured the pro-EV auto racing argument best. Speaking at the Accelerating Sustainable Performance Summit, Elkins said, “Racing itself may not necessarily be sustainable, but utilizing racing as a sort of laboratory for technological development (and as a platform for education and promotion) could move us more quickly toward a more sustainable auto industry.”
Image credit: Venturi Automobiles
Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Mary also contributes to Earth911; her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.