Formula E: Racers ready to hit the beach on 'South America's Riviera'

    Story highlights

    • Formula E heads to South America
    • Sebastien Buemi won 2014 Uruguay race
    • Punta del Este promises great after-race party

    (CNN)No wonder Uruguay's Punta del Este race track is known as the "Monaco of South America." The shore is so close that sand drifts onto the circuit, and when the checkered flag falls even the slowest drivers can be sunbathing in less than 60 seconds.

    Saturday's beach-bound round of the Formula E championship -- the world's first racing series for electric cars -- promises close, competitive racing, as well as a dose of warming winter sun.
      "It is a great track, a bit different to what we're used to, with lots of high-speed chicanes," Renault e.dams team driver Sebastien Buemi told CNN.
      "I'm sure it will be a great event again. They moved it a little closer to Christmas, so we'll see even more people there too."
      The ePrix runs around the city's pretty harbor over a 1.1-mile long track, with the beach as a backdrop.
      "Punta del Este is a wonderful venue," Formula E commentator Jack Nicholls told CNN. "It's a fast track with lots of overtaking opportunities.
      "The sand on the track makes it difficult for the tires to grip the road. That means the drivers are having to work hard and the racing is entertaining.
      "It also takes 12 seconds to get from the commentary box to the beach, so we're off-air at 5:30 p.m. and by 5:31 p.m. we're on the beach!"
      THE STORY SO FAR...
      There are plenty of other reasons to expect season two of the Formula E World Championship to hot up at Uruguay's seaside race, which has been dubbed "Power in Paradise."
      Ex-Formula One race driver Buemi was a dominant winner of China's season-opener in Beijing, with Brazilian Lucas di Grassi taking the top spot at the second round in Malaysia.
      Di Grassi, who raced in F1 in 2010, leads the championship ahead of Buemi and Britain's Sam Bird, who drives for the DS Virgin Racing team.
      Buemi could have had two victories in the bag if his car hadn't ground to a halt midway through last month's Putrajaya race, as its battery power wilted in the hot conditions.
      The Swiss racer still looks like the man to beat this season, and he has high hopes that a repeat of last year's Uruguay victory can help him pull clear of Abt Schaeffler's Di Grassi.
      "That was my first victory in the championship, so I'm confident," says Buemi, who raced in F1 with Toro Rosso from 2009-11 and has since been reserve driver for its parent team Red Bull.
      "Reliability was difficult in the last race but hopefully it won't happen again. It should be hot again in Punta and there is sand on the track, but we should be competitive.
      "I lost last year's championship by one point but I would say altogether it's been a good start to the season. I'm happy."
      FAMILIAR FACES
      Buemi is one of nine F1 drivers -- including 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve -- who have now switched to electric racing.
      "It's been great. We've seen a lot of good fights and some of that is down to the good teams and drivers that are involved," the 27-year-old says.
      "Even if the cars are not at the level of what you can see in F1 right now, it's been good to watch. Every car is more or less the same and the fighting is very good -- that's what we want to see."
      After dabbling in a variety of motorsport since leaving F1 in 2006, Villeneuve is back on the grid this year with Monaco's Venturi Racing -- a team co-owned by Hollywood A-lister Leonardo Di Caprio.
      American marque Andretti is the only team to field a female racer: Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro -- who comes with the stern nickname "Iron Maiden" -- has moved from IndyCar after making her Formula E debut in London last season.
      Nelson Piquet Jr. is the defending Formula E world champion, having won with China's NEXTEV TCR team. The Brazilian -- son of the three-time F1 world champion -- spent an ill-fated two seasons in the elite motorsport with Renault in 2008-09.
      THE CAT ON THE TRACK
      It's not only drivers and electric cars on track. While F1 is used to groundhog invasions in Canada and burrowing owls in Brazil, Formula E has conjured a feline first -- a cat risked one of its nine lives when it sprinted across the track in Beijing in October.
      "The cat was the first time we had an animal on track in Formula E," Nicholls says. "So that's been a highlight of 2015 so far!"
      However, it's probably unlikely that a puma or jaguar will make a rare appearance in their native Uruguay.
      PARTY TIME
      Punta del Este is nonetheless famous for its party animals, and the festivities will get an extra charge from Formula E, where an "EJ" pumping out electronic dance music -- even when the cars are on track -- is part of the show.
      "Punta del Este is a very good party place," Nicholls says. "The atmosphere is great. The steak is very, very good, so are the wines.
      "The fun element is absolutely key to Formula E. There is always a big party after each race and it just feels like a place you really want to be."
      FORMULA E FAST FACTS
      Formula E uses single-seater cars powered by 200 kilowatt batteries.
      Practice, qualifying and the ePrix all take place on Saturday. The race, which lasts approximately 50 minutes, always starts at 4 p.m. local time.
      There are no tire changes in Formula E, but drivers have to pit to swap for a second car. Teams are not allowed to charge their electric cars during the race.
      There are nine teams and 18 drivers in the 2015-2016 championship, following the withdrawal of the Trulli team, and 10 city-center races.