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.”

Andretti ‘getting closer’ to re-signing Alexander Rossi in IndyCar

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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TORONTO – Team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com that contract negotiations with both Alexander Rossi and Honda Performance Development are progressing positively with hopes of reaching a conclusion “within the next week or two.”

Andretti spoke to NBCSports.com and to NBCN’s Robin Miller Sunday at the Honda Indy Toronto.

“I think things are getting there,” Andretti said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re close. I can’t comment, but I think things are going in the right direction.

“Honda has been great. They’ve been really good to work with. I’m hoping we can put something together there, too. We’ve been part of Honda for so long. I think we are getting real close there.

“I’m hoping to have this resolved in the next week or two.”

Rossi, who is in the final year of his contract, finished third in the race, one position ahead of championship rival Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.

That leaves Rossi just four points behind Newgarden heading into Saturday night’s race at Iowa Speedway.

Rossi’s agent is his father, Pieter.

NBCSports.com spoke to Pieter Rossi before the race, and he also expressed optimism that a deal will be reached soon for his son as the star driver, 27, enters the prime years of his career.

Andretti had separate meetings with Honda Performance Development officials and with Pieter Rossi in the hours leading up to Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.