Celtics owners plug into Formula E racing circuit
A new, environmentally friendly auto racing series just got even
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
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,”
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
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
”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
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.