Since Formula E was founded 10 years ago, organizers of the all-electric championship have tried to overtake a decade to race in Japan’s capital, now the most populous city on earth with a population of more than 37 million.

That dream has finally become a reality, and the inaugural Tokyo E-Prix will take place this Saturday around a 1,604-mile circuit in the Tokyo Big Sight area of ​​the city. To say it is the blue-riband event on Formula E’s 2024 calendar is something of an understatement, with the race highly anticipated by drivers, teams and fans.

Ahead of the inaugural event in Japan, this writer was given the unique chance to sample the new circuit on Mahindra’s simulator at its Banbury factory, with the hour-long session allowing me to get to grips with the 20-corner circuit and offer a peak at what challenges awaits the drivers.

A time just over two seconds slower than Mahindra’s simulator driver and ex-IndyCar racer Jordan King put me somewhere in the ballpark of the same speeds, and first impressions are that unlike the previous street circuit in Sao Paulo, overtaking will be much harder.

Twisting turns follow one after another with little in the way of straights and there are two noticeable elevation drops coming out of Turn 2 and through Turn 16.

Unsurprising for a street circuit, there are also numerous bumps, although whether these are as harsh in real-life remains to be seen as teams up and down the grid battle to get the most accurate representation of the circuit as possible.

With no racing having ever been held at the venue, and with it not actually existing until earlier this week, a laser scan of the surface is the best that teams can hope for prior to any track action.

The only place the Formula E teams have been able to prepare for the Tokyo E-Prix

Photo by: Spacesuit Media / Lou Johnson

“We mentioned the bumps, that’s one of the things that we’ve said ‘but actually how bumpy is it’s going to be in real life’, we don’t know because no one has ever been there before,” says King.

“Okay we’ve got all the kerbs, but are they going to be exactly the same, are the walls going to be in exactly the place that we’ve got them. Even if they’re out by 30cm that still completely changes a corner so there’s a little bit of keeping an open mind.

“Make sure I guess you’ve covered every possible base, you can’t just go down one avenue, you’ve got to try and cover all eventualities.”

Without a doubt the most challenging aspect of the circuit had been the quick left of Turn 16, where drivers would brake from high speed, turning downhill and over a vicious bump, all while trying to keep the car to the left before braking hard for the fast-approaching right-hand hairpin.

By staging a race in Tokyo, it has tapped into one of the biggest markets in the world after years of trying

“Someone is going to get it very wrong through there” was an utterance by one of the Mahindra simulator engineers during my session and having gone off through that particular section of track it was easy to see why. So easy in fact that it was an area that had concerned the FIA, with the governing body releasing a new version of the track last week which placed a right/left chicane through the bend.

Such a change is the perfect example of the challenges that teams face ahead of the weekend, where trying to get an accurate representation of the track layout is a constant battle. And in a championship as close as Formula E, any advantage that a team can gain in the simulator will pay dividends out on track.

The change, though, has taken away the most exciting aspect of the track and left a layout that sadly, in this writer’s opinion and which is hopefully proven wrong, has no noticeable or defining features.

The FIA ​​has modified the original layout of the Tokyo track over safety concerns

The FIA ​​has modified the original layout of the Tokyo track over safety concerns

Photo by: FIA Formula E

Drivers themselves are expecting it to be difficult to overtake, which is not necessarily a bad thing when the likes of the Monaco grand prix circuit has offered good racing in the past for Formula E.

“It’s very twisty, so I think it’ll be a different race to what we saw in Sao Paulo. A lot of corners, probably very difficult to overtake so qualifying will be more important,” says 2020-21 Formula E champion, Nyck de Vries.

For Formula E organizers, whether or not the race is as eventful as the previous round in Sao Paulo – with Sam Bird taking the lead on the last lap to hand McLaren his first win in the championship – it’s almost a moot point.

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By staging a race in Tokyo, it has tapped into one of the biggest markets in the world after years of trying. Japanese manufacturer Nissan, which runs a factory team and supplies powertrains to McLaren, has become title sponsor for the race, while other squads have vested interests in the country.

Championship CEO Jeff Dodds was in the country weeks ago for the launch of the ticket sales alongside Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, and the fact that Formula E has already committed to racing in Tokyo for the 2025 season tells you all you need to know about its importance going forward.

And while Formula E has gradually moved away from just using street circuits, with double-headers at Misano and Shanghai set to use permanent tracks, continuing to have races in the world’s biggest cities means the championship remains true to its DNA.

Even if that means the chance of a damp squib this weekend when it comes to racing action is a high possibility.

Formula E boss Jeff Dodds joined Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike to show how serious the series is about going big in Japan

Formula E boss Jeff Dodds joined Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike to show how serious the series is about going big in Japan

Photo by: FIA Formula E



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