• First 'ePrix' scheduled for September 13
• Series boss see silence as golden
• Young want social media more
• Fans can 'vote' a driver more power
LONDON, England - Sept 2 (Reuters) - Alejandro Agag, the man leading the world's first all-electric car racing series, laughingly describes himself as "an old petrolhead" who likes a bit of noise.
The joke stops there, however. The 43-year-old chief executive has silenced the doubters who only two years ago were questioning whether he could turn his 'Formula E' plans into reality. Next week he hopes to show he is on to a winner.
'IT'S REALLY HAPPENING'
The first race, or 'ePrix', will be race in Beijing, China, on September 13, sanctioned by the International Automobile Federation and broadcast around the world. Agag is smiling at how perceptions have changed.
The Spaniard told Reuters in an interview: "Many people thought this (series) was not going to happen because it was a really difficult project to put together. There were no cars, no cities, no sponsors, no television.
"Now people have seen the testing, they've seen the cars, they can walk in the Olympic Park in Beijing and see all the fences and walls - the race is happening. That really changes minds."
If F1 remains in a league of its own, with the glamour of Ferrari coupled with the allure of tracks such as Monaco and Monza, Agag has a different audience in mind - one younger and more interested in social media than motorsport.
"We have one thing in which we are the best. We are the cleanest," the chief executive said. "For the world today, that's probably the most important thing.
"The world is changing and the world is not any more so concerned about the fastest or the noisiest. It is concerned about who is doing things that are better for the environment - in that, Formula E is unbeatable."
'WE'RE BIG FANS OF F1'
Agag is used to being compared with F1, even though Formula E will race in city centres, over shorter distances, and with very different cars. He is in any case perfectly placed to deal with them, having been involved in both.
As well as a long-standing involvement in F1's feeder series GP2, he was a business partner at London soccer club Queens Park Rangers with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore.
"We are big fans of F1 and whoever tries to compete with F1 will fail," Agag said. "From Fangio to Fittipaldi, Senna and Schumacher to famous racetracks, the glory and the drama; all that F1 has behind it is so important for motorsport that it's impossible to fight it.
"What we are trying to build is something complementary, which may be smaller and at the beginning we are modest and know who we are, but we think we have something very important."
Agag said the September 13 race would be "a transforming moment" for Formula E with the media room already having had to be enlarged from a planned 300 capacity after a rush of accreditation requests from a curious media.
MAXIMUM SPEED ONLY 225KM/H
The series hopes to break even in Year 1 with some big corporate partners already on board and a range of broadcasters that includes Sky Germany and ITV in Britain, and has a clear sense of direction.
All ePrix 'weekends' shoehorn practice, qualifying and the race into one day, and drivers must switch cars at the sole mandatory pit stop because of the limitations of battery technology. Maximum speed will be about 225km/h compared to the 340km/h likely to be reached by F1 cars at Monza, Italy, this weekend, and the series will end in Britain in June 2015.
"We started the project by focusing on China and the US as the two main markets for the development of electric cars," Agag explained. "We thought there was a window of opportunity there for Formula E to grow.
"China symbolises very well what we want to show, that electric cars are the solution for pollution in cities... to show these cars in action in Beijing sends a strong message of what we want to achieve."
F1, which a GP in Shanghai, has also been re-positioning itself to project a greener image. It switched this season (2014) from the old howling V8 engines to much quieter hybrid V6 turbos with energy recovery systems and an increasing focus on battery technology in line with automotive industry priorities.
F1 SKILLS PLAY THEIR PART
However the changes were not welcomed by all, with the lack of noise bemoaned by some fans for whom the ear-splitting scream of a non-turbo V8 was the big draw. Such fans might dismiss the electric racing, where the noise comes largely from trackside DJ's and sound systems rather than the cars, but the two worlds are already overlapping and could converge further in future.
Renault is active in both while McLaren provided the powertrain and electronics for Formula E cars and Williams the batteries. Many of the drivers are also familiar to F1 fans, with Alain Prost's son Nicolas and Ayrton Senna's nephew Bruno among them.
Formula E also has women racers and teams backed by the likes of Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio and British entrepreneur Richard Branson but in other areas the championships are worlds apart.
Agag said: "We have the most aggressive social media strategy of any sport. No sport allows the public to have such a direct effect on the result of the sport as we do.
"Fans vote and the car gets more energy. We will be the most digitally open championship in the world," he added, referring to a 'Fanboost' feature which allows fans to vote online for an extra speed boost for the driver with most support.
GETTING JUP CLOSE
If purists dismiss that as a gimmick, Agag took it on the chin: "We do understand people who criticise it, we understand their point, but we think the point is irrelevant because we gain so much more because of the contribution from fans."
Fans will be able to get close to drivers and cars, with an open paddock compared to the exclusive F1 version. Eventually there could even be a final virtual round with gamers challenging drivers in an online ePrix with points and prize money at stake.
Agag said talks were in progress with digital developers who wanted to wait and see how the championship fared.
"If you invest $10 or 20-million in creating a video game and then the championship underneath disappears, you lose your investment," he explained. "I think it will need the first season to happen, to be able to launch that video game but we are definitely keen on doing that.
"We know it's possible."