Formula E/LAT

Sam Bird wins frantic Formula E season-opener in Hong Kong

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Sam Bird made a flying start to the new Formula E season in Hong Kong on Saturday by taking his sixth victory in the series despite being hit with a drive-through penalty following a crash in the pit lane.

Bird started the race second for DS Virgin Racing behind pole-sitter Jean-Eric Vergne and retained position for much of the opening half of the race, albeit interrupted for 30 minutes following a red flag when the track was blocked by a crash.

Bird stayed close to Vergne before making his move for the lead shortly before the car changes, and was quickly able to pull out a lead.

However, the Briton put his win hopes in doubt after locking up when trying to turn into his pit garage, causing his car to go straight on and into some nearby pit equipment, narrowly avoiding some bystanders.

Bird completed his car swap and emerged from the pits still leading, but was hit with a drive-through penalty for having made the change outside of the garage.

After quickly gapping the struggling Vergne, Bird took his penalty and came back out still in front of his former teammate, with Mahindra’s Nick Heidfeld sitting just behind in third.

Bird put his foot down to re-establish his earlier advantage, eventually crossing the line more than 11 seconds clear to claim the first win of the 2017/18 season.

“That was a really crazy race. I’m finding it hard to process what happened really,” Bird said.

“It’s not often you win having a drive-through penalty in Formula E. Firstly I’ve got to thank the team. We thought it was going to be really difficult coming into this year.

“The likes of Audi have made a big step, Renault still obviously being strong which makes Techeetah strong, Mahindra were fantastic last year, other teams have caught up…

“So we thought it was going to be tough to dominate round one, but I’ll take that.”

Vergne held on to second place ahead of Heidfeld despite struggling with a lack of radio and telemetry, while Nelson Piquet Jr. matched Jaguar’s best result in Formula E on debut for the team in P4.

Daniel Abt led Audi’s charge in fifth after teammate and defending series champion Lucas di Grassi sustained early damage, causing him to drop back and fail to recover.

Antonio Felix da Costa finished sixth for Andretti ahead of leading debutant Edoardo Mortara in seventh, while Alex Lynn, Nicolas Prost and Luca Filippi rounded out the points-paying positions.

The new Formula E season continues with the second leg of the Hong Kong double-header on Sunday.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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