Portland, you’ve never seen – or heard – anything like this.
The Formula E World Championship series quietly made its debut Saturday afternoon at Portland International Raceway. Rather than the ear-piercing sounds of NASCAR, Champ Car and IndyCar races that left their mark over the years at PIR, the Formula E Gen3 electric cars are barely noisier than a bicycle race.
A field of 22 drivers zipped 32 laps, measuring some 64 miles, Saturday afternoon in the Southwire Portland E-Prix. Nick Cassidy, a New Zealander driving a Ferrari for Envision Racing, held off pole sitter Jake Dennis to win the inaugural event at PIR.
The hard-luck Dennis, who emerged from Portland with 2022-23 series lead of one point over Cassidy, finished second for the fourth time in five races. This was Formula E’s lone stop in the United States of its 16-race season series.
PIR was as dressed up as its been for a major race, with myriad Formula E signage and plenty of luxury suites. The theme is green was evident throughout the event, down to the alternative-fueled parking shuttle buses.
Organizers didn’t have an attendance figure, but the grandstands lining PIR’s front stretch were nearly sold out. From a fan base, the difference between Formula E, and NASCAR and IndyCar, is a greater percentage of international fans. Among those in the crowd were Olympic skiing star Lindsey Vonn and Jaden Smith, son of actor Will Smith.
The difference on the track was stark, too. The field of cars raced in tight groups, particularly down PIR’s front stretch, where they were occasionally four across the track. Then there’s the lack of noise. Vroom? More like a mouse with a long squeak.
“It’s just such a different experience,” said Kevin Savoree, president of race promoter Green Savoree Racing. “The thing that was most fun was their style of racing.”
Endurance racing it’s not. Because of cautions, four laps were added to the original 28-lap race, testing the stamina of the car’s batteries. Still, the actual race lasted for less than an hour. Cassidy said he sensed “positive energy” when he arrived at PIR in the morning.
Antonio da Costa, who finished third, thought Formula E’s first pass through Portland was a hit.
“Here in Portland, these guys are much more petrol heads, IndyCar racing and all that. I wasn’t sure how we were going to do. But the turnout was amazing,” da Costa said. “I’m very positively surprised.”
Dennis had two reasons to impress: a new fan base, and an old boss who is very familiar with PIR. Dennis drives for owner Michael Andretti, who has been involved as a driver and owner for Champ Car and Indy Car stops in Portland.
“It’s always a big event for us, the home race when the boss is here. He always puts extra pressure on us,” said Dennis, smiling.
Cassidy drove near the lead for the bulk of the race. Dennis led the first four laps before giving way due to a caution. Da Costa was in the mix throughout. With a handful of laps remaining, it was clear Saturday’s race would go to one of those three.
Da Costa made a daring pass of Cassidy with three laps left, but Cassidy quickly regained the front. Then it became a matter of holding off Dennis, who got close on the final turn and front stretch before coming up short. Cassidy’s winning margin was .294 of a second.
Formula E is scheduled to return to Portland in 2024.
“The guys put on a great show. Now it’s one of those things where we’ve got a proof of concept for next year. People will go, oh yeah, Formula E was really cool,” Savoree said. “I think we showcased Portland at its best.”