Sir Richard Branson makes first FIA Formula E appearance at Miami

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One of the specific story angles we didn’t get to in our comprehensive coverage of the inaugural Miami ePrix for the FIA Formula E Championship was Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson making his first appearance at a Formula E race. He mentioned the possibility of Montreal joining the calendar during a Saturday press conference, among other items.

Virgin Racing recaps Branson – and the team’s – weekend in Miami below:

An action-packed day of racing for the fifth FIA Formula E race was also replicated off the track as Sir Richard Branson joined the Virgin Racing team in the paddock for his first race weekend experience – starting as he congratulated Sam Bird on setting the pace in practice with a time of 1:06:588.

As qualifying started, Sir Richard joined the Virgin Racing engineers in the garage to direct proceedings as Sam Bird qualified in fourth and Jaime Alguersuari followed in ninth on the shortest track in the Formula E Championship to date.

The first of two North American races in the 2014-15 season, Bird started strongly moving quickly into second place having overtaken eventual race-winner Nicolas Prost and Nelson Piquet Jr. Not letting race-leader Jean Eric Vergne break away, Bird remained within a few tenths of the Andretti driver before making a textbook move to take the lead of the race on Turn 5 of the 19th lap.

As Bird pitted, the Virgin Racing engineer management suffered a loss of radio control causing the timings of the Brit’s car changeover to be disrupted. The 28-year-old Bird returned to the track in ninth position and battled characteristically hard to control his energy use and pace in his second car to finish the race in eighth position.

Starting the race in ninth on the grid, Alguersuari raced passionately throughout, though struggled to maximize his pace and energy consumption giving him a finishing position of 11th.

From exploring South Beach, watching the Miami Heat, a Miami Vice photoshoot, to a performance from the Miami Dolphins and having Sir Richard Branson wishing the drivers luck on the grid before the race, the Virgin Racing team will leave Florida with incredible memories of the fifth ePrix.

The only British team in the Championship, Virgin Racing are third in the FIA Formula E Team Championship with 78 points, just one point behind Audi Sport ABT.

The next race takes place on the 4th April 2015 when the series travels to the West Cost of North America and Virgin Racing charge up in Long Beach.

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder, said, “It has been a privilege to be here today with the team to see the backstage action, the working of the garage and to support the drivers. This has been a great day all round even without finishing on the podium and Miami has been such a great venue for this ePrix.”

Sam Bird, Virgin Racing driver (eighth position) said, “The start of the race was very strong and we fought hard for the lead which I took from Vergne just before the mid-point of the race. We executed our race strategy today, but this time we did not get it as right as previous races where we have won podiums. I pitted a lap later than most of my competitors and had very low energy levels on my in-lap to the car changeover which lost me time. The entire experience of being in Miami has been brilliant and the welcome that we have received as the Virgin Racing team from the people of Miami has been phenomenal. I am already looking forward to returning next year and getting on the podium then.”

Jaime Alguersuari, Virgin Racing driver (11th position), said, “Coming into the Miami race was so exciting because this city has an infectious atmosphere that is hard not to love. We did not have enough time in the delayed practice to work on our qualifying pace as much as we would have liked and so qualifying was difficult. Starting on the grid in ninth I was still confident of being able to get a good result from this ePrix, but unfortunately I struggled with my energy consumption. One of the reasons I love being part of the Virgin Racing team is because I know we are strong enough to bounce back from results like this and make sure that we better our performance at the next race. Bring on, Long Beach.”

Alex Tai, Virgin Racing Team Principal, said, “As with every race as a team we have ambitions of getting on the podium and we certainly intended on sending Sir Richard Branson back to Necker Island with a trophy in his hand from this weekend. The Virgin Racing team have already developed a reputation for executing excellent race strategies in this Formula E Championship and we will look to do this again at the next race in Long Beach. We have the right personnel throughout this team to bounce back and we leave Miami just one point off second place in the Team Championship so we remain in a very strong position. Miami was an incredible experience for the entire Virgin Racing team.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.