Alonso fastest in first practice for Chinese GP

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Fernando Alonso finished fastest in today’s first practice session for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix as Ferrari began life after Stefano Domenicali in good fashion.

The Spanish driver finished over three-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg as the Silver Arrows opted to limit their running in order to save some tires. Daniel Ricciardo was the leading Red Bull in third place, whilst Lewis Hamilton suffered a problem on his car late on that meant he could only finish down in eighth place.

Practice began in cool and dry conditions at the Shanghai International Circuit on Friday morning, but the heat was immediately on at Ferrari as the team had to repair the steering rack on Kimi Raikkonen’s car, costing him precious track time. The arrival of new team principal Marco Mattiacci in the garage also turned a few heads as the Italian remained behind his dark sunglasses, but it did not have an immediate impact as the Finn was unable to post a time during the session.

Out on track, Pastor Maldonado spun his Lotus early on after taking his eyes off the road mid-corner to make an adjustment on his steering wheel. However, the Venezuelan was able to recover and get his car going again.

With the new rules giving teams a free set of tires to use during the first 30 minutes of FP1, most of the teams got their drivers out early to post a lap time during this part of the session. Unsurprisingly, Mercedes once again set the pace as Nico Rosberg was the quickest driver in the first set of runs, but the team’s one-two streak from Bahrain was interrupted to begin with by Fernando Alonso, who sat in second place ahead of Lewis Hamilton after the first runs.

A low track temperature forced most teams to sit in the pits for some time after the first 30 minutes of the session. Lotus did send out Romain Grosjean for a long run in order to gather some data given the teams problematic start to the season. Daniil Kvyat’s inexperience showed when he ran wide at the tricky first corner and spun his rear wheels into the gravel. However, he managed to keep the engine running and get the car going again, although another spin late on would have given the Russian driver some food for thought.

With 40 minutes to go, most of the teams headed back out on track to complete some more running. Fernando Alonso was able to top Rosberg’s time and moved into P1 by over one second, and Daniel Ricciardo followed suit to go P2. The Mercedes drivers opted not to head out for another run alongside the other teams, with Hamilton instead completing an outlap before heading back to the pits.

In the final 20 minutes, the focus shifted to race simulations and long runs, meaning that the times remained largely unchanged. Rosberg did wind up his Mercedes to post a quick lap and jump up into second place, but he could not continue the team’s series of first place finishes from Bahrain. This meant that Alonso – who won last year’s race in Shanghai – began his weekend in the best possible fashion, and gave Mattiacci something to smile about on his first day on the job.

Be sure to tune into second practice live on on NBCSN from 2am ET.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”