Celtics owners plug into Formula E racing circuit

A new, environmentally friendly auto racing series just got even

greener.

Boston Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck and a dozen of his

co-owners in the NBA franchise have invested $21 million into

Formula E, an all-electric circuit that has already attracted

celebrities with environmental interests such as actor Leonardo

DiCaprio and billionaire Richard Branson. The series is scheduled

to debut in Beijing in September and continue on the streets from

Miami to Monaco in a 10-race, Formula One-style championship.

”We aim to help make Formula E a worldwide sensation,”

Grousbeck told The Associated Press this week shortly before the

deal closed. ”With our upcoming races in the centers of Los

Angeles and Miami, we will help showcase the power and promise of

sustainable vehicle technology.”

The leader of a group that purchased the NBA’s most-decorated

franchise in 2002, Grousbeck formed Causeway Media Partners this

May – it’s named for the street that runs past the Boston Garden –

along with fellow venture capitalists Bob Higgins and Mark Wan, a

Celtics co-owner who is also part-owner of the San Francisco

49ers.

The group has raised about $100 million to invest in sports

media and entertainment properties.

Formula E is its first.

”We know the power of competition and entertainment, and will

bring our knowledge to the development of the market for electric

vehicles,” Grousbeck said. ”Causeway’s mission is to find

investment opportunities that benefit from our deep network of NBA

and NFL team owners, media executives and professional investors.

Formula E is a perfect match.”

In an email from Malaysia, where he joined Prime Minister Najib

Razak to announce the second race on the 2014 schedule, Formula E

chief executive officer Alejandro Agag said the investment by

American sports team owners is ”a game-changer.”

”The U.S. is one of the main markets for Formula E,” said

Agag, adding that there will be two American teams and two American

races in the first season. ”To have a partner that knows deeply

the U.S. sports market places us in a unique position to develop

our championship in the Americas.”

Auto racing aficionados have long been drawn to the pure power

of Formula One, with its Ferraris and Mercedes pushing the limits

of automotive technology.

But the circuit’s detractors complain that the technology – and

the money spent to develop and obtain it – makes driving skill an

afterthought, with a lack of passing that can turn the typical

Formula One race into a parade. The politics of the sanctioning

body can also border on the sordid, with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone

currently facing bribery charges in Germany.

The Formula E founders are hoping their circuit will be

attractive to younger fans who are enthusiastic about the

environmentally friendly mission.

”Formula E is a completely different proposition,” Agag wrote.

”We see ourselves as a complement, not a competitor, to other

series like IndyCar or Formula One.”

The first generation of the Formula E car will be a uniform

vehicle that reaches a top speed of 160 mph, with an electric power

unit by McLaren, a wireless charging system by Qualcomm and tires

from Michelin that are designed to last the entire race. Batteries

will last about 25 minutes; instead of traditional pit stops,

drivers will switch between two cars.

”The spectacle of the drivers running is going to be cool,”

Grousbeck said.

But perhaps the most noticeable change is that the roar of the

engine familiar to race fans of other circuits will be replaced by

what Agag called a ”futuristic noise” of about 80 decibels.

”We believe the sound is going to be one of our big assets,”

he said. ”That level is high enough to deliver plenty of

excitement, but low enough to allow us to race in the center of

cities all around the world. We think fans will love it.”

The plan is for individual manufacturers to begin racing their

own cars in the second year, ”making possible a technology fight

essential to motorsport competition,” Agag said. DiCaprio’s group

said last week it will build its own chassis in Year 2.

”The championship aims to become the development platform for

batteries, power trains and charging technologies that then can

trickle down to road cars,” Agag said. ”We want to make cities

more sustainable and healthy by promoting EV’s.”

Grousbeck, who will serve on the board of Formula E Holdings,

said the competition for faster and more efficient electric

racecars is expected to bring technological breakthroughs that will

show up in street-ready electric vehicles.

The environmental benefits are no doubt what attracted Branson

and DiCaprio. While they are backing individual teams, Causeway

Media Partners is investing in Formula E itself, which has been

licensed by the international governing body for motorsports as the

exclusive international all-electric circuit for the next 25

years.

According to the investment group, there is a waiting list

beyond the 10 teams that have already signed on for the first year.

Car manufacturers Audi and Renault are already backing the series,

as are sponsors DHL and Virgin, and broadcasting deals have been

signed with Fox Sports in the United States and TV Asahi in

Japan.

”The ultimate goal is to become a preferred channel for

promoting and increasing electric vehicle sales to consumers,”

Causeway Media Partners said in a release. ”If this goal is

achieved, the holding company that owns the sport should become

highly profitable.”

The complete Formula E schedule includes Beijing; Putrajaya,

Malaysia; Rio de Janeiro; Punta del Este, Uruguay; Buenos Aires;

Los Angeles; Miami; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Berlin and London.