Featured Story Motorsport

Toyota turns its back on Formula Electric; TV guide

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

An announcement this week that was pretty much ignored by the motor racing media but that I think is significant is that Toyota will not join the Formula Electric series but run an electric car in the World Endurance Championship.

Arch-rival manufacturers Audi and Porsche have left the WEC and will join the electric car series, as will Nissan, and Toyota was expected, by some, to eventually follow suit. Toyota’s hybrid technology won last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and President Akio Toyoda said this week that “the cars we use in the race will be the cars we sell in the future.”

Clearly, hybrid technology and full electric will be Toyota’s focus going forward.

Executive vice-president Shigeko Tomoyama said the WEC represents the best testing grounds for electric cars. Tomoyama said the Formula  Electric feature race is a 60-minute race and the longer WEC races are “a better place to develop the know-how for electric vehicles.”

Toyota is the first major manufacturer to turn its back on Formula Electric, which has been a bone-head idea from the get-go. I asked Scott Atherton years ago, when he was president of the American Le Mans Series, if he would consider an electric-car class and he said sure, if enough manufacturers were interested.

Sports car racing is the place to put electric cars because race fans and consumers generally can compare the performance of full electricity vis-a-vis hybrid, diesel, fuel cell, gasoline or whatever.

When Formula Electric was first announced, I couldn’t believe the FIA had gone along with the idea. I wrote this: “When they come out with fuel cell cars, are they going to have a separate series for those? Will there be a Formula Fuel-Cell series?”

I went on to argue that sports car racing was the perfect place to test and show off electric cars.

In any event, questions are now being asked about the Formula Electric series. The economic model puts the entire responsibility for running the races on the host cities. Yes, public money is being used for Formula One in Montreal but that subsidy – including the renovation of the paddock that will start any day now – only takes care of a portion of the cost.

Which is why Formula Electric was kicked out of London, and Montreal, and Beijing, and Long Beach and I could go on.

I will not be surprised if more manufacturers follow the lead of Toyota and decide that Formula Electric seemed like a good idea at the time but there are better alternatives.

WEEKEND TV

Formula One qualifying, TSN5, Saturday, 9 a.m., Grand Prix of France, Circuit Paul Ricard

NASCAR Camping World Series trucks, Fox Sports Racing, Saturday, 8:30 p.m., St. Louis, Mo.

Formula One race, TSN1/3, Sunday, 9 a.m., Grand Prix of France, Circuit Paul Ricard

Verizon IndyCar Series, Sportsnet 360, Sunday, 12:30 p.m., Road America, Wisc.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, TSN1/3, Sunday, 3 p.m., Sonoma, Calif.

NHRA drag racing, FSR, Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Norwalk, Ohio