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It was almost the perfect finish to the first ever Formula E race in America. The crowd turned out in numbers on the streets of downtown Miami to witness the spectacle of fully-electric racing. And they almost got the result they craved as Scott Speed came tantalisingly close to hearing the Star-Spangled Banner on the top step of the podium.
The charging Andretti driver chased eventual race winner Nicolas Prost to the chequered flag and finished under half-a-second adrift of a dream debut on home soil.
Speed wasn’t a complete stranger to Formula E having tested the car at Donington Park during pre-season testing last summer. But being behind the wheel tackling the bumps and walls of the city streets was an entirely different prospect to the vast run-off and billiard table-smooth surface of the pre-season test track.
“The car itself has improved a bunch since I last drove it,” he said. “The team has done a great job with the car. In general running the car at a street track with walls so close definitely increases how fast everything feels, that’s for sure. Obviously when you’re racing rather than testing there is loads of strategy involved much more like a chess match, which I enjoyed very much.”
Prior to the event Speed hadn’t raced in an open-wheel category in earnest since driving for Toro Rosso in Formula 1 nearly a decade ago. Since then he has competed in NASCAR and Rallycross but clearly relished the single-seater atmosphere and environment.
“It’s very nostalgic and there were lots of feelings like taking the car to the pre-grid and getting out of the car and having a towel and water, speaking to the engineers,” he admitted. “Also the big crowds and the Sir Richard Branson’s of the world walking around, it’s very open-wheel and I haven’t felt that for a long time. It was cool to go through the whole experience again.
“I love where Formula E is going and they have the right idea with things like social media, which is an extremely important aspect. It’s something that I think open-wheel racing is missing out on. The fact that Formula E is putting so much emphasis on it is very smart and the correct approach.”
Having had no experience of driving the car on a street track, the last thing Speed needed was for free practice to be reduced to just a single 30-minute session as last-minute construction work delayed proceedings in Miami. This was followed by a qualifying session where he failed to get a clear lap. This meant he started 10th, eight places behind eventual winner Prost.
“Qualifying really killed our chances, which is always a possibility when racing on a street circuit. We got held up on both my flying laps quite a bit so instead of a top-three starting sport we were down in 10th. The race went as well as it could have but we also had a temperature issue with the second car. If we didn’t have that issue we could have had a better run at Prost towards the end.”
Coming in as a late replacement for fellow countryman Marco Andretti, Speed didn’t know what to expect on his first appearance but hopes he will be able to build on the result in Long Beach.
“I had no expectation coming into it as it’s been so long since I’ve been in an open-wheel car. It is pretty amazing to me that it’s literally like riding a bike or putting on an old pair of shoes because everything just switched back into that mindset.
“I look forward to hopefully do the next one in Long Beach, if my schedule allows me to, and building on what I’ve already learned.”
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