May 13, 2014 5:38 pm

Formula E charged up to roar off the grid

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Motorsport’s electric car championship has completed funding for its first season by securing investor backing from US tech company Qualcomm, paving the way for the first race in the series around Beijing’s Olympic Park in September.

Promoters Formula E Holdings raised €50m from Qualcomm, which is already a series sponsor, and private equity fund Amura Capital.

They join existing investor Causeway Media Partners, which invests in sports rights and owns the Boston Celtics basketball team.

The founding investors are Enrique Banuelos, a Spanish real estate developer, and Alejandro Agag, Formula E’s chief executive. Other investors are expected to join the Formula E board.

Formula E has secured 10 city-centre destinations for its first season, including Beijing, Miami, Los Angeles, London and Berlin.

Ten teams will each field two drivers driving cars capable of speeds greater than 225kph during hour-long races. Qualcomm is attracted to Formula E as a showcase for its wireless charging technology, a feature likely to be introduced in the second season.

Because the cars will have limited battery life in the first season, drivers will have to stop midway through the race and switch to a second car.

Engines will be in power-saving modes for most of the races, but cars can accelerate using a set number of power boosts, some of which will be determined by fans voting for their favourite drivers.

Steve Pazol of Qualcomm said: “Formula E is the perfect way to demonstrate the leading edge of technology of this next generation of environmentally responsible transportation.”

Formula E has raised over €70m from rights deals with broadcasters such as Fox Sports in the US, Asahi of Japan and ITV in the UK, and sponsors including Qualcomm, DHL, Michelin and Renault. The promoter expects to break even towards the end of the first season.

Team backers include Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who is backing Monaco-based Venturi Automobiles, and entrepreneur Richard Branson, who is funding a Virgin Racing team. Team budgets are expected to be up to €3.5m.

Among the team principals is four-times Formula One world champion Alain Prost, who is co-founder of the Le Mans-based e.dams team.

Car manufacturers will be following the inaugural season closely before deciding whether to participate by developing their own cars.

Cars for the inaugural season have been manufactured by a consortium including Renault, Spark Racing Technology, Italian chassis maker Dallara and the technology arms of Formula One teams McLaren and Williams.

All the teams will test the cars at new facilities built at Donington Park in Leicestershire which opens on Thursday.

roger.blitz@ft.com

Twitter: @rogerblitz

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