Andretti Autosport announced Wednesday it has signed on as the third team to compete in the environmentally friendly FIA Formula E championship, which will feature electric cars racing in 10 cities around the world beginning in 2014.
Michael Andretti's two-car operation will join China Racing and British-based Drayson Racing as organizations already committed to a field that will have 10 two-car teams competing in each e-Prix.
"We're in the business of racing and we've been looking for opportunities to diversify, and when we were contacted about this we felt it was something we needed to look into," Andretti told The Associated Press. "The more we looked into it, the more interested we got. We like the relevancy of the series because one of the problems auto racing is starting to face — and is going to face more of in the future — is relevancy.
"I think relevancy is going to be addressed with the electric cars. It's a good way to hook our younger audience into racing, and I'm excited to be involved and be involved at the ground floor."
Andretti plans to run one car for the championship, while his second entry could be a "star car" that uses well-known drivers such as IndyCar reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti or James Hinchcliffe based on their availability.
The races will be held September 2014 to June 2015 for a "winter season" on street courses that run through the heart of major cities around the world. Alejandro Agag, CEO of series promoter FEH, said there will be stops in Miami and Los Angeles on the 10-race schedule, making it important to have Andretti involved in the series debut.
"Andretti is a great name in motorsport, and when we launched the championship, we said we wanted to have a geographically diversified grid and for us, the U.S and China are our two key markets in the world," Agag told the AP. "In the U.S., we really need a strong team to lead the way and we think there is no better name than that for America than Andretti. And globally because it's very American, but at the same time it's a world-known name.
"Everybody knows Andretti everywhere, so for us it was really a priority to speak with Andretti and invite them into the championship."
Andretti Autosport currently fields four IndyCar entries, and cars in Indy Lights, the Pro Mazda Championship and in the USF2000 National Championship. The team has won four IndyCar championships, two Lights titles, one USF2000 championship and its drivers have won two Indianapolis 500s.
Michael Andretti raced more than 20 years in CART and Formula One, winning 42 CART races, which ranks third in American open-wheel history. His father, Mario Andretti, ranks second with 52 victories.
In Formula E, teams will have two drivers and four series-provided single-seater electric cars in the first season. Renault has signed on as the car manufacturer, but Agag said series officials expect three to five manufacturers in the second season based on current conversations. Michelin is the tire supplier.
"A lot of the sponsors are saying we are looking for something that is going to tick the box on sustainability, and we're finding many big corporations are saying they need to go toward sustainability in sponsorship," Agag said of interest in the series.
The car batteries will last up to 25 minutes at a time, so drivers will have to switch cars during the race while their batteries recharge. The driver will enter the pits, then get out of the car and run 100 meters to get into the freshly charged car.
The cars will be based in England with teams arriving at the venues in advance of the race to prepare the cars for competition.
In an effort to keep costs down — Agag said the operating budget for a season is $3.5 million, money Andretti is seeking to cover through sponsorship — very little development will be allowed on the cars.
"They don't want to have a whole lot of development in the actual car, they want the development to go into the electric technology," Andretti said. "They are really going to control that side of it with the rules that you can't do a lot to the cars."
The final calendar for the debut season will be presented to the FIA in September for approval and also has planned stops in London, Rome, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Putrajaya, Bangkok and Berlin. Agag said the races will be around major city landmarks, and the events will be stand-alone and not held in conjunction with any other series.
"The main point is to be fully sustainable with zero emissions, so if you bring in combustion cars you are destroying that message," Agag said.