Formula E: Sam Bird soars to victory in Putrajaya ePrix (VIDEO)

1 Comment

A nifty early move for the lead and masterful power conservation was the formula for success for Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, who took tonight’s FIA Formula E race in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Bird hounded Dragon Racing’s Oriol Servia for the lead following the end of a safety car period at Lap 4. A short time later, Bird made a strong inside cutback on the IndyCar veteran coming out of Turn 3 to get position and take the lead at the right-hand Turn 4.

Another safety car at Lap 9 for an incident involving Andretti’s Franck Montagny and Venturi’s Nick Heidfeld slowed the race once more, but when the green came back out at Lap 12, Bird stretched his lead over TrulliGP’s Jarno Trulli to more than seven seconds and was able to make his power last until Lap 19, when he pitted to swap cars.

When the cycle was complete, Bird found himself second behind Audi Sport Abt’s Daniel Abt, who had a horrible start and swapped cars himself at Lap 12.

At a considerable disadvantage on power, Abt could only hold onto the point for so long and with five laps to go, Bird seized P1 for good. Abt ultimately faded to 10th having to nurse his car home.

“That was mega,” Bird said following the race. “The guys did an amazing job this weekend. We’ve really turned it around from pre-season, and I’ve got to say thanks to these guys for giving me what was an unstoppable car today.

“The first stint, we did the damage, and the second car, I just got it around really – there was no real need to push. I just conserved the energy and I knew other people were pushing and getting closer, but we had it well under control.”

Following Bird in second was Beijing winner/Audi Sport Abt driver Lucas di Grassi and in third, e.dams-Renault’s Sebastien Buemi. di Grassi and Buemi both had to start from the rear of the field; the former for not setting a time due to a qualifying crash, the latter for being penalized (underweight).

The runner-up finish enables di Grassi to keep hold of the points lead by three points over Bird, 43-40, going into the next race in Uruguay on Dec. 13.

“I did a much better race than Beijing,” said di Grassi, who had the September season opener fall into his lap after a last-lap crash involving Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost. “The car performed really well. I had a lot of fights from the beginning of the race to the very end, and to finish second from last is something unbelievable…Coming out as championship leader is a great feeling.”

Prost won the pole for tonight’s race but had to start from 11th place due to a 10-spot penalty for instigating the aforementioned Beijing crash. But like his teammate Buemi, Prost had a good recovery drive to fourth. Ditto for Jerome d’Ambrosio, who also started from the back because of a penalty – in his case, exceeding the maximum power usage in qualifying – but finished fifth.

Karun Chandhok, Oriol Servia, Antonio Felix da Costa, Jaime Alguersuari (who earned bonus points for fastest lap), and Abt rounded out the Top 10. Despite involvement in several incidents during the race, Indy Lights pilot Matthew Brabham gutted out a 13th-place finish for the Andretti camp.

The hard-luck award of the night goes to Bruno Senna, who had passed Prost late for fourth place but then had a big crash at Turn 9 on the final lap of the race. Senna was shown walking away from the accident, but a solid result went by the boards for him; he ended up 14th.

Also being done wrong was Nelson Piquet Jr., who was knocked out at Lap 22 after Trulli pushed him into the wall near Turn 1. This came shortly after Trulli was penalized for energy infringement, for which he had to serve a drive-through (he finished 17th).

Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
Leave a comment

No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

RACING RETURN: Robert Wickens ‘just excited to drive’

‘BAD FOR MARRIAGE, GREAT FOR QUARANTINE:’ Graham Rahal on iRacing

The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images