Lucas di Grassi

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Di Grassi calls Mexico Formula E win ‘one of the best races of my life’

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Lucas di Grassi has called his last-to-first charge to victory in Saturday’s Mexico City ePrix “one of the best races of my life” as he slashed the gap to Formula E championship leader Sebastien Buemi.

Di Grassi qualified a lowly 18th on Saturday before being hit on the opening lap of the race, prompting the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team to pit the Brazilian early and complete a rear wing change.

After narrowly avoiding going a lap down, di Grassi made a second stop ahead of schedule after a safety car period, swapping cars to give himself track position once the leading drivers all pitted.

Despite having far less energy with which to complete the race, di Grassi managed the situation well and kept clear to take a memorable victory at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

“I had a very poor qualifying today so I started at the back. Somebody crashed into my back, broke my rear wing,” di Grassi explained.

“There was a safety car, I came back, I was last. And then the safety car came about Lap 18. By that moment, when I did the stop, I thought that after the safety car went out and I had a 25 second lead to the next car when they exited the pits with half the race to go, I think I could have fought for the win, because I was roughly two seconds off and there was 14 laps remaining in that moment.

“So I thought that it was going to be tight but I could have made it. When the second safety car came and I had much less energy than those guys, I went on the radio because the safety car came in and the car was moving already. In my head I’d lost the race in that moment, because I was not able to hold them up with the amount of energy I had.

“And then luckily I had Jerome [d’Ambrosio] behind me with a little bit of hold up. I managed to create a gap and kept on just using regen, just tried to be as energy-efficient as possible, just trying to focus on my race until the last corner and just celebrated like crazy.

“For me it was one of the best races of my life in terms of how I drove the second stint, of how energy efficient I had to be.”

The result saw di Grassi end Buemi’s win streak at three races and sliced the Renault driver’s championship lead from 29 to just five points as he could only finish 13th.

Formula E returns in Monaco on May 13.

Di Grassi rolls the dice, strikes lucky for Mexico Formula E victory

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Despite sustaining damage on the first lap, taking an extra pit stop and almost falling a lap down on the field, Lucas di Grassi struck gold in Mexico City to win one of the most memorable races in Formula E’s short history.

Di Grassi arrived in Mexico some 29 points behind championship leader Sebastien Buemi, who won all three of the opening rounds and, even after a red-eye flight, was in the mix for a fourth straight victory on Saturday.

Both title protagonists struggled in qualifying, with di Grassi starting down in 17th. The Brazilian was hit on the opening lap, suffering rear wing damage that left the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team with no choice but to bring di Grassi in under the safety car early on. Di Grassi squeezed back out still on the lead lap, ensuring he still had a chance of points; anything more seemed unrealistic.

Pole-sitter Oliver Turvey saw his hopes of a maiden victory end early when his NextEV car lost power, handing the lead to DS Virgin Racing’s Jose Maria Lopez. Despite having Nick Heidfeld and Jean-Eric Vergne for close company, Lopez was able to sustain his lead through to the first round of pit stops.

A safety car called in reaction to Turvey’s stoppage prompted di Grassi and Dragon’s Jerome d’Ambrosio to both pit early, with both drivers favoring track position over an energy advantage. The pair ran first and second respectively when the leaders pitted, but with significantly more energy, it seemed a matter of time until they were passed.

A spin for Lopez while in pursuit of d’Ambrosio gave third to Vergne, who had leap-frogged Heidfeld in the pits. Buemi also had an off-track excursion that ended his hopes of points, prompting Renault e.dams to push for the fastest lap instead, something the Swiss driver successfully captured.

When a third safety car period was called, di Grassi’s lead was slashed, appearing to scupper his hopes of hanging on for victory. However, with d’Ambrosio putting up a mighty defence to keep Vergne back, the Brazilian was slowly able to peel away. By the time Vergne made it up to second, di Grassi had already set off into the distance, allowing him to take a remarkable win by two seconds.

Vergne came home frustrated in second place, while Bird rounded out the podium. Mitch Evans took Jaguar’s first Formula E points in fourth, rising up the order after a late crash involving both Mahindra drivers. Teammate Adam Carroll also boosted Jaguar’s points haul in eighth.

Nicolas Prost also recovered from an early pit stop to finish fifth for Renault, with Lopez recovering to sixth. Daniel Abt finished the race seventh, having lost pole earlier in the day due to a tire infringement, with Carroll and Nelson Piquet Jr. following close behind.

Esteban Gutierrez got his Formula E career off to a good start by finishing 10th, meaning he now has as many top-10 results in Formula E as in Formula 1, where he made 59 starts.

The next round of the Formula E championship takes place in Monaco on May 13.

Buemi’s Formula E title hopes set for red-eye test in Mexico

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Sebastien Buemi may have swept the opening three races of the 2016/17 Formula E campaign with wins in Hong Kong, Marrakesh and Buenos Aires, but the Renault e.dams driver is set to face his toughest challenge to date in Mexico this weekend.

Because as well as taking on the usual pretenders at the front of the Formula E field, Buemi will also battle against a foe arguably greater than them all: jet lag.

For while the majority of the Formula E grid ventures to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on Friday to carry out the usual media duties and pre-race shakedown, Buemi will only arrive on Saturday, having flown overnight from Milan in Italy.

Buemi will be at Monza on Friday to launch Toyota’s new TS050 Hybrid car that will race in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship ahead of the two-day ‘Prologue’ test over the weekend.

While Buemi himself will not be testing, he will nevertheless be making the jaunt over the Atlantic once his duties with Toyota are complete, getting in to Mexico City early on Saturday morning. Opening practice is due to start around 8am local time.

It will be the toughest test Buemi’s title challenge has faced thus far. The Swiss driver dominated proceedings in all three of the opening races, battling through to claim victory with great confidence. The Renault e.dams package is the class of the field in Formula E this year, and the same can be said of Buemi.

Quite how he battles the tiredness inevitable after a flight – even if he’s unlikely to be traveling in coach – will be of particular intrigue.

The circumstances of Buemi’s weekend could open up an opportunity for his chief rivals who have no WEC commitments to worry about at Monza, primarily Lucas di Grassi and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Di Grassi lost his place in WEC following Audi’s withdrawal from LMP1 at the end of last year, and although he is keen on appearing at Le Mans, it does not look like the Brazilian will be embarking on a full campaign in the endurance series.

The ABT Schaeffler team has been Renault’s closest challenger through the first two Formula E seasons, with di Grassi being in the title race at the final round in both years. After Buemi’s flying start to season three, Mexico offers a big, big opportunity for di Grassi to cut the gap.

The same opportunity exists for Vergne, who, despite signing up with Manor in WEC for 2017, will not be in Monza. The Frenchman may race for one of the leanest teams on the grid in Techeetah, but races with the same Renault powertrain as Buemi, making him a serious contender for victory.

Vergne finished second in Buenos Aires after setbacks in the opening two races, and arguably has his best shot yet at a breakthrough Formula E victory on Saturday in Mexico City.

For Buemi, there is the added concern that he will most probably have to miss the New York City double header in July due to commitments in WEC at the Nürburgring. His lead may already be a substantial 29 points, but with a possible loss of 50 to his rivals later in the year, every point in Mexico will be crucial.

Lucas di Grassi ‘likely’ to make Le Mans, WEC appearances in 2017

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Lucas di Grassi says that he is “likely” to race in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans despite Audi’s withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of 2016.

Di Grassi previously balanced duties between Audi’s LMP1 team and with its affiliated ABT Schaeffler operation in Formula E, with the latter now becoming his priority for 2017.

A number of drivers involved in both WEC and Formula E face dilemmas over which to prioritize later in the year.

Most notably, the New York Formula E double-header clashes with WEC’s visit to the Nürburgring, ruling out a number of drivers from the electric event including Sebastien Buemi, Jose Maria Lopez and Sam Bird.

Di Grassi believes it will be hard for Formula E to avoid clashing with other series as it expands, and thinks that drivers will need to fully commit to the championship down the line.

“With Formula E expanding, I think it will be hard not to have clashes in the future. I hope there are no clashes,” di Grassi told NBC Sports.

“For me with Audi, they told me: ‘The priority is Formula E. If you want to do one or two other races, you can.’ They even told me if you want to do WEC, you can, but the priority is Formula E. You have to miss the WEC.

“It’s a very clear, straightforward view for us, for ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport. For the team the priority is Formula E. That I understand and I agree that Formula E is getting to a level where it is getting very complicated, very detail oriented, so you need to focus on that.”

When asked if he would be racing at Le Mans and making other WEC appearances, di Grassi said it was “likely”.

“My interest is in the Pro categories. Either LMP1 or GTE Pro,” di Grassi added.

“I think GTE is the future. P1, you have very little cars, only two manufacturers. For GTE the tendency is to grow. GTE is very interesting in a career point of view.

“But still to be discussed if Audi would release me or not to do it.

“But normally Audi understand quite well if I want to do another race in which they don’t compete.”

Formula E Season Preview: Can Buemi and Renault defend their titles?

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HONG KONG – Three months on from Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi’s tense championship showdown in London, Formula E returns this weekend for the start of its third season.

The all-electric series has gone from strength-to-strength over the past couple of years, welcoming on board a number of the biggest names from the motorsport and automotive worlds.

Buemi clinched the second Formula E title by two points last time out in London, but he nor his renault e.dams team will have rested on their laurels over the off-season.

With pre-season testing completed at Donington Park and excessive private running also undertaken by all the teams, the stage is set for another thrilling season of racing.

2016-2017 FIA FORMULA E SEASON PREVIEW

Drivers and Teams

DS Virgin Racing
2. Sam Bird
37. Jose Maria Lopez (R)

NextEV NIO
3. Nelson Piquet Jr.
88. Oliver Turvey

Venturi
4. Stephane Sarrazin
5. Maro Engel (R)

Faraday Future Dragon Racing
6. Loic Duval
7. Jerome d’Ambrosio

Renault e.dams
8. Nicolas Prost
9. Sebastien Buemi

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
11. Lucas di Grassi
66. Daniel Abt

Mahindra Racing
19. Felix Rosenqvist (R)
23. Nick Heidfeld

Panasonic Jaguar Racing
20. Mitch Evans (R)
47. Adam Carroll (R)

Techeetah
25. Jean-Eric Vergne
33. Ma Qinghua

MS Amlin Andretti
27. Robin Frijns
28. Antonio Felix da Costa

The grid for season three gets a small shake-up with the arrival of five new drivers and some tweaks in the owernship and management of teams, as well as one big-name newcomer.

Of the incoming drivers, Jose Maria Lopez is perhaps the best-known following his hat-trick of WTCC titles with Citroen from 2014 to 2016. The Argentine replaces Jean-Eric Vergne – having nearly stepped in for him in Buenos Aires earlier this year – via the connection between Citroen and its sub-brand, DS.

Vergne in turn moves to the new Techeetah team, whch replaces Team Aguri. The Aguri operation had been running on a shoestring budget through season two, but now has a bright long-term future thanks to investment from China. Armed with Renault powertrains that are identical to the one used by e.dams, Vergne could be a dark horse with Techeetah.

Dragon Racing continues with both Loic Duval and Jerome d’Ambrosio for season three, with the team now enjoying a tie-up with EV development company Faraday Future. The same ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to drivers has been taken by Renault and ABT, both of whom retain their successful partnerships from season two. MS Amlin Andretti parted company with Simona de Silvestro after London, bringing in Antonio Felix da Costa by virtue of its new partnership with BMW.

NextEV has cut ties with Team China Racing (previously the ‘TCR’ in its name) for season three as part of a sizeable restructuring of the operation overseen by CEO Martin Leach. The fresh investment being made in the team is evident by the presence of a Formula 1-style race truck in testing and a new two-tier garage in Hong Kong, the first of its kind in the series.

At Mahindra, recent Indy Lights racer Felix Rosenqvist replaces Bruno Senna, the Swede having cut his teeth in F3 for the past five years and driven a wide variety of cars. DTM and GT racer Maro Engel also enters the series with Venturi in place of Mike Conway.

The biggest new name on the Formula E grid for season three is Jaguar. The British manufacturer returns to top-line international motorsport 12 years after its ill-fated F1 project ended with a renewed sense of optimism. Its first all-electric car, the I-Type, will be driven by Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans, both of whom may be series rookies but boast a wealth of experience and potential.

Calendar

1. Hong Kong – October 9
2. Marrakesh – November 12
3. Buenos Aires – February 18
4. Mexico City – April 1
5. Monaco – May 13
6. Paris – May 20
7. Berlin – June 10
8. Brussels – July 1
9. New York – July 15
10. New York – July 16
11. Montreal – July 29
12. Montreal – July 30

The calendar for season three acts as quite the diversion from season two. Gone are rounds in Beijing, Putrajaya, Punta del Este, Long Beach and London, while Hong Kong, Marrakesh, Brussels, Montreal and New York are set to debut, with Monaco also returning following a season’s break.

While the calendar does now venture to some important markets – most notably New York and Montreal – the omissions are somewhat glaring. After Hong Kong, the next most easterly race on the calendar is Berlin, while the loss of London following a long-running tussle with local officials is also a great shame.

Series CEO Alejandro Agag has always stressed that the season three calendar is one of ‘transition’. Between Marrakesh in November and Mexico City in April, there is just a single ePrix – any momentum in the early part of the season will be hard to sustain as a result.

Alas, from season four, we should have a more winter-centric calendar that packs additional races into the period when other series are on their break.

Team-By-Team Previews

Renault e.dams
As the defending champion team and with last year’s title-winning driver, expectations are high at Renault e.dams. Buemi and Prost have forged a potent partnership through the first two seasons of Formula E, and will be gunning for another big year. Maintaining the powertrain advantage over the rest of the field may prove difficult, given the expectation that the field will converge.

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
The challenge for ABT this year will be trying to overcome Renault before Audi steps up its work involvement from season four. Lucas di Grassi could feasibly have two Formula E titles to his name by now, yet he sitll seeks that elusive championship. Daniel Abt has been an adept number two, but will want to step out of that shadow this year.

DS Virgin Racing
Losing Jean-Eric Vergne may have been a blow to DSVR, but the arrival of Jose Maria Lopez is hardly a step down. Sam Bird has led its charge through season one and two, taking three race wins and wiping the floor with his teammates in the process. The switch from a twin-motor powertrain to a single-motor should boost the team’s chances as well.

Faraday Future Dragon Racing
Dragon has enjoyed two fairly similar seasons in Formula E thus far, both featuring one strong half and one weak one. If it can find some consistency, the driver pairing of d’Ambrosio and Duval is certainly capable of fighting for a title. The arrival of Faraday Future should also offer a boost to the operation (not just spice up its livery).

Mahindra Racing
Formula E fan-favorites Mahindra enjoyed a number of breakthrough results through season two, scoring its first podiums and taking the fight to many of its bigger rivals. Now the focus for Mahindra will be stepping up a gear and battling at the sharp end of the field on a more regular basis. The arrival of Rosenqvist is a huge coup for the team given his prowess in F3 and – notably for Formula E – street tracks.

Venturi
The arrival of German manufacturing giant ZF bodes well for Venturi in the future, but it may be a bit early in the relationship to see any significant progress for season three. Maro Engel’s acclimatization to single-seaters after spending so long in GTs and tin-tops will be worth tracking, while Stephane Sarrazin has been one of Formula E’s unsung heroes through its first two seasons.

MS Amlin Andretti
After hobbling through season two with a season one-spec powertrain, Andretti now has its in-house design working properly and geared up for the new campaign. The new technical partnership with BMW is also significant, teaming together two notable racing organizations. Robin Frijns and Antonio Felix da Costa will combine to form what is arguably the most exciting driver line-up on the grid.

Techeetah
Survival may have been the focus for Team Aguri through season two, but revival is now the name of the game at Techeetah. With significant backing secured and a flashy launch taking place in Hong Kong on Thursday, the team is gunning to spring a surprise. Renault powertrain in hand and JEV behind the wheel, keep an eye on them.

NextEV NIO
Like Techeetah, the focus for NextEV in season three is recovering from a difficult second campaign. Season one drivers’ champion Nelson Piquet Jr. returns alongside Oliver Turvey, the pair both capable of some excellent displays on occasion. With the processes completely overhauled – even down to the exercise each team member is completing – the team will want to return to the podium this year.

Jaguar Racing
Jaguar’s much-anticipated return to motorsport starts this weekend in Hong Kong, and expectations are high. Carroll and Evans both arrive with bags of experience and pace, while the operation is slickly-run even at such an early stage. Time will tell just how far Jaguar can get up the field this year – bearing in mind it is starting two years behind the other teams – but regardless of how it fares on-track, its arrival is significant for the series.