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Official Review by Chris Green, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Technology nerds will look at Formula E and have a blast. The racing series that utilizes electric powered open wheel race cars that fly through the streets of cities around the globe has quickly become a popular racing series in just its first year of competition.
When the season schedule is announced, Miami is one of the venues that many people look forward to the most. With the city having hosted racing in its downtown streets for years in the 90’s with great success (sports car racing and CART were the main draws), Formula E signals a return to city racing in South Florida.
Perhaps the biggest shock to fans who attend the Miami ePrix will be that they can leave their earplugs at home. These electric-powered monsters sound more like souped-up golf carts. With almost no sound but the whine of an electric motor, one can easily carry on a conversation over the phone without having to raise their voice. What also makes this a great event for the spectators is the immersion into the race that you get from the sounds you DO hear. The screeching of the tires as the cars fly around the corners; the flow of the air over the bodies; the scrape of the metal on the cars as they bottom out over the curbing and bump into the driver next to them…it all adds to something that gets lost when all you hear is the sound of a screaming engine.
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Food and drinks at Formula E are a bit of a different experience, as the event is held in the middle of a downtown area of a city. The main fan area of the track is located in Miami's Museum Park, where several food vendors are located. Nothing too fancy, but your standard sports fare is easily found, as well as alcohol and drinks. In the same vain, right across the street from the track itself is Bayside shopping center, where you will find Hooters, Chili's, Hard Rock Café, a food court, and other areas. Just down the street are fancier locations like Capital Grille or Truluck's. That said, finding food once in the track itself could be tricky, as there is only one pedestrian bridge going over the track and into Museum Park.
The atmosphere at the Miami ePrix is unlike anything else you will find in South Florida. Once the lights turn green for the standing start, the lack of sound from engines is quickly drowned out by the giant roar from the fans as the cars take off. Each pass on the track garners cheering from the fans. People pack every inch of the fences along the route to watch the cars as they speed along the street course, getting a closer view than most other tracks would afford.
Being closer to the action brings with it a sense of excitement that few other race tracks allow. Additionally, there is an air of high class. Massive yachts and luxury ships line the waterway as VIPs on board sip champagne under the hot sun. Residents in the hundreds of luxury apartments and condos along the route watch from their balconies as the race speeds along.
Even the flyover is closer than before, as the US Coast Guard's AH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter flies less than 75 feet above Biscayne Blvd during the national anthem.
The neighborhood surrounding the course is a mix of pristine downtown beauty and the derelict streets that plague major cities. While Museum Park and the American Airlines Arena provide high class backdrops and locations for fans, there are equal amounts of sights that would rather be unseen.
One of the main entrances to the speedway and the track's biggest grandstand area is a road along which most of the city's homeless call home. Additionally, trash and garbage can be seen stuck in bushes from blowing down the streets throughout the day. One of the track's segments takes the course under and around one of the highways through downtown Miami, and while most of it is only accessible to media, it still provides a bit of an eyesore among an otherwise pristine track layout.
As for places to stay, Miami is chock full of locations to call your home for the weekend. Just blocks from the track on Biscayne Blvd. is the Intercontinental, as well as a Holiday Inn, just to name a few. South Beach is also a few minutes' drive away across the causeway, and there is no shortage of luxury hotels to be found there.
Since Formula E is a newer series, it is hard to call the fans in attendance what some consider to be "series knowledgeable." While fans of IndyCar and Formula One would recognize names like Scott Speed or Nick Heidfeld from their time in their previous racing homes, casual fans aren't as familiar as they would be had it been a NASCAR race with Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson.
For the most part, fans are calm, courteous, and despite the long lines for pedestrian bridges, even-keeled under the hot Miami sun.
Getting to the Miami ePrix is not difficult. Whether coming down I-95 from the north or on the 836 from elsewhere, downtown Miami is hard to miss. Figuring out where to get off, however, is not easy. The main exit on the 836 heading east that leads to the American Airlines Arena is closed, as it would drop cars off literally on to the actual track. That said, with the massive lack of signage for fans to follow, those (like myself) may find themselves taking the tunnel to PortMiami, only to have to turn back around and take the tunnel back out and exit near the Arscht Center opera and ballet house.
Parking is no worse than when attending a Miami Heat game, as most open spaces downtown will cost you at least $20-$50, depending upon how close you park. I was able to snag a spot for $20 one block from the main entrance.
Once inside, fans will be disappointed to know that the pits and garages are fully off-limits, as they're located on the back side of the American Airlines Arena.
Nonetheless, the garages for the Formula E School Series are open to the fans, and there is a driver autograph session in the fan zone in Museum Park before the race.
Despite its flaws, the Formula E Miami ePrix is truly one of the most unique and purely enjoyable motorsports events Florida has to offer.
The sight of open-wheel cars flying through the streets of downtown Miami is thrilling in itself, but add that to the technology involved and you have one of the most interesting and exciting race series in the world.
While the rest of the country is still frozen from the grip of winter, Miami is sunny, breeze, and warm. There is perfect weather for a race downtown.
The fan zone is located in Museum Park in downtown Miami, a giant greenspace that is bordered by Biscayne Blvd., the American Airlines Arena, Biscayne Bay, and the Perez Art Museum.
Any fan who attends can spend the day under the shade of a coconut palm along the water while cars whiz by on the track.
Additionally, the race series also brings with it the Formula E School Series. This program involves engineering programs at local high schools that allows students to develop and work on their own electric-powered race cars (max speed tops out at 30 miles per hour) that are then brought to the track, put on the speedway, and driven in a practice and qualifying session by the students. Then, they put it all on the line and race their machines during a 20-minute race on the same track that Formula E would be using in front of the screaming fans. For what it is worth, while the cars themselves aren't as fast as the main event, the race is just as exciting as the main race.
Easily one of the most exciting forms of sports, Formula E takes car racing to the next level. A racing series ahead of its time, the future is bright for the Miami ePrix. Getting you closer to the action than a traditional race track is what makes this downtown venue stand above the rest, and with the backdrop of Biscayne Bay and the sunny skies of a Miami spring afternoon, what better venue is there to see?
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