By the time the FIA Formula E World Championship E-Prix takes place in Cape Town in 2023, it will have been over 30 years since the last open-wheel racing event in South Africa.
In 1992, the Formula One circus pitched its tent at Kyalami, but since then it’s been lean times for local motorsport fans.
Little wonder, then, that Iain Banner, the chairman of race promoters e-Movement, can’t wait to get the show on the road. There will be a long build-up, taking in all sorts of supplementary events, before it culminates in racing along a dramatic 2,9km street circuit that will amplify Cape Town as a vibrant tour stop.
“Formula E isn’t the future, it’s the present,” he said of the single-seater motorsport championship for electric vehicles that has shown remarkable growth since the first race in 2014.
SuperSport has broadcast the past two seasons and has acquired the rights to the Cape Town race, together with the other races in the 2023 season.
“This type of racing has long been absent,” said Banner. “I believe that sport is a platform to engage with people, which is what Formula E offers.”
As co-founder of the Laureus Awards and Sport for Good Foundation, he is well placed to talk about the impact of major events and the need to integrate them with cities and their people.
In the case of Formula E, he set up e-Movement to promote e-Mobility – the use of electric vehicles – and E-Fest, a festival designed to integrate (and celebrate) electric vehicles, including skateboards, bicycles, and one-wheelers, with gaming and charging solutions; essentially a one-stop-shop for innovation and tech.
There will also be an e-Invest summit, intended to attract global investors and match them with investment opportunities that exist in Cape Town and South Africa at large in the green economy, in support of climate change. The broad plan is to create a virtuous circle for one of the major sporting events in SA in 2023.
Banner wasn’t backward in coming forward when he pitched for the rights: he guaranteed a top-three race on the calendar in terms of organisation, impact, and environment.
He swoons at the possibilities of the television production and the pictures that will go out to the world. The picturesque precinct around Cape Town Stadium will be central to the backdrop, with improvements to the street circuit beginning in January. Cycling and jogging lanes will be integrated, adding a modern aesthetic to the city’s ambitions.
“It’s going to be a glorious circuit,” he predicted ahead of the track unveiling next February, to coincide with the launch of the e-Investment conference.
But he wants it to be more than a pit-stop on the global calendar.
“There’s a big push to switch from coal to alternative energies,” said Banner, who does more than talk the talk – he’s driven an electric vehicle for three years and couldn’t be happier.
“What we ought to be doing in South Africa is getting a production facility for an electric vehicle, and that should be a bakkie. Without the race, we couldn’t be thinking this way, or forging this path.”
Happily, Cape Town will stage a leg of the e-Prix for five consecutive years (with an option to extend), giving the organisers every chance to entrench e-Mobility as a viable alternative.
The parties and sideshows that accompany every major motorsport event will be a key part of the Cape Town race, but at its heart will be a world-class competition with a dozen teams made up of two drivers each. The drivers are inevitably outstanding; they have to be given that electronic racing cars are notoriously challenging to drive and require extreme skills to race.
Among the racers is former Formula 1 drivers, Le Mans winners, FIA World Endurance champions; GT, DTM, Super Formula, Formula 2 winners, and champions.
Living in Cape Town himself, Banner senses a growing awareness around Formula E, anticipation even, for an event that will generate excitement and goodwill for South Africa.
He believes its success will be measured from a global perspective, chiefly in the race living up to his promise of it being among the top three stops on the tour.
“FIA [Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile] set very high standards and their whole ecosystem is tremendous. I want us to be seen as an incredibly slick, well-organised machine, and to add value within the country, to be great.”