March 13, 2015 / 7:04 PM / 3 years ago

'Formula E' electric car race creates a quiet buzz in Miami

MIAMI (Reuters) - The streets snaking through downtown Miami’s high rises will be buzzing this Saturday as commuters make way for dart-shaped racing cars zooming by at breakneck speeds - and little noise.

Formula E cars drive into a corner during the Formula E Championship race in Beijing in this September 13, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Barry Huang/Files

The race drivers will be competing in the first Formula E race in the United States since the all-electric series was launched in Beijing in September 2014.

Halfway through its inaugural season, Formula E has offered the same, albeit quieter, thrills as the popular Formula One events, with low-slung, opened-wheeled cars capable of speeds up to 136 miles per hour (220 kilometers per hour).

The Beijing race ended with a spectacular crash that sent one of the $500,000 Renault SA cars flying.

Danger and adrenaline are not all that you find on the track, however.

“It’s really something to see how racing has evolved to fully electric motors. It could revolutionize racing and transportation in general,” said Daniel Fernandez, 17, who bought tickets with several high school friends to attend the race, which is expected to attract more than 50,000 spectators.

The series was launched by Jean Todt, a French racing icon and former Ferrari chief executive who heads of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) that oversees Formula One.

It is backed by environmentalist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio and entrepreneur Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group sponsors a two-car team.

FIA, which has partnered with Spanish private equity fund Amura Capital, Qualcomm Inc and cable billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc, has attracted sponsors such as tire maker Michelin and courier service DHL hoping the series will help the development of mainstream electric cars.

“The technology improves unbelievably once these large companies start investing in research,” said Pier Luigi Ferrari, the managing director of DHL motorsports.

The public has shown an interest and Elon Musk’s electric car firm Tesla Motors Inc has already built up a following, although its stock has fallen lately as it missed sales targets.

Developing a so-called green racing series has meant overhauling how the races are run. Car batteries cannot be charged mid-race, forcing drivers at some point to rush into a second, fully charged car.

The cars give off a high-pitched whistling sound, a bit like a dentist’s drill.

Drivers also must carefully manage their power, a challenge for race cars with a limited battery life.

“We have a target (power) consumption per lap and we need to respect that like the Bible,” said Jaime Alguersuari, a 24-year-old Spanish driver with Virgin. “You want to win, but if you burn up all your energy you won’t finish.”

Additional reporting by David Adams. Editing by Andre Grenon

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