Formula E: Trulli rolling with changes in owner/driver role, last minute driver swap

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MIAMI – The last two Italian race drivers in Formula 1, Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi, are now teammates in the Trulli GP lineup this weekend for the Miami ePrix, the first U.S. race for the FIA Formula E Championship.

Both are at different stages in their career, with Trulli now adjusting to his new life as the championship’s lone owner/driver.

Trulli, now 40, is four years removed from his last season of F1 in 2011 with Lotus (which became Caterham, and is now defunct), which also marked his last full-time racing appearance.

It was his past driving history, he said, that allowed the Trulli Formula E team to even happen, as it was a fairly last-minute replacement for Drayson’s entry on the inaugural FE grid in June 2014, just four months before the season’s first race in China.

“Being the driver was the key to launch the team at the beginning, given my experience and helping set up everything around what is a formula team,” Trulli told MotorSportsTalk. “I’ve learned many things. It’s a good challenge. I hope we will be successful.

“But it’s quite a big commitment to be honest. It’s tougher than expected. But it’s good to have a team. In my position, I feel more a team owner than a driver. I’m really focusing on the future of the team.”

The team has a definitive, distinctive Italian flair compared to the rest of the grid, even though the team is entered as a Swiss entrant.

The standard Italian blue and white colors also have some green and red elements on the car as well.

The team has also ensured two Italian drivers stay in the driver lineup, with Trulli now joined by longtime friend and fellow ex-F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi this weekend.

Liuzzi steps into the seat vacated by Michela Cerruti; the timing was perfect for Trulli and Liuzzi to work together.

“To be honest, I’d always contacted ‘Tonio’ since the beginning, but he was busy in Japan,” Trulli said. “When I had the chance, it was on the Monday, and they knew it was here. I was very lucky; it was coincidence.

“But for him to be here, and me knowing he was here, made it a good move. Obviously it’s not ideal for him or me as it was a very last minute call. We couldn’t prepare much in terms of feeding him all the information of the car. With his experience and talent, I’m sure he’ll do a proper job.”

Liuzzi downplayed expectations this weekend, but is still grateful for the opportunity. He too last raced in F1 in 2011, with the HRT team (like Lotus/Caterham, also no more in F1).

“This was the best end of our beautiful holiday,” Liuzzi said Friday during the FIA Formula E press conference. “I was supposed to fly away yesterday night, but after a nice lunch with Jarno on Tuesday when he arrived, we had a talk, and we heard maybe Michela was not supposed to come.

“Jarno told me to stay and stand by. My flight was Thursday night, but I got the great news that I’m able to race with this team. I respect him a lot as a person and a driver. It’s my job to help this team go forward.”

Indeed Trulli, the driver has admitted that being Trulli, the owner, is a tough prospect. The team currently sits ninth in the Team’s Championship, with only 12 points accrued from Trulli’s single fourth place finish in Round 3 at Uruguay.

Still, he enjoys the fact he’s in at the ground level of the series as it looks to gain prominence on a world stage for years to come.

“The series in my opinion has some potential,” Trulli said. “It brings some important messages, sustainability, green power. It’s getting stronger around the world.

“It’s the perfect base and motorsport series to be able to develop all those technologies, now appearing on road cars, that will become all day driving cars in the near future.

“We have seen already some manufacturers manufacturing a hybrid car. But they are planning full electric cars for the next five years. Developing these technologies, and racing in this series, helps drive the development.”

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.