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Di Grassi wins frantic, attritional Putrajaya ePrix

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Lucas di Grassi has taken the lead of the FIA Formula E championship after winning an eventful Putrajaya ePrix in Malaysia on Saturday afternoon.

Di Grassi started the race from sixth position, but brought himself into contention for the win after a solid first stint and a quick pit stop that allowed him to vault many of his rivals.

Pole sitter Sebastien Buemi had controlled proceedings throughout the first half of the race, only for an issue on his car to cause him to slow and hand the lead to Loic Duval.

Duval’s hopes of claiming his first Formula E victory were dashed after a slow pit stop that saw the Frenchman emerge behind Antonio Felix da Costa and di Grassi.

Nicolas Prost did lead the field after being forced into an early pit stop due to a software issue, but the need to save power throughout the second half of the race saw him drop down the order.

A frantic final period of the race saw da Costa’s car stop and start again, Andretti’s Robin Frijns make contact with the wall, Duval retire and Jerome d’Ambrosio crash out on the final lap while running in third place.

Di Grassi kept himself out of trouble in the final stages to claim his first win of the season and move into the lead of the championship as Buemi could only finish 12th.

Sam Bird came through to finish second for DS Virgin Racing, marking a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for the Briton. After qualifying all the way down in 14th and with doubts over whether his second battery would work, Bird managed to make a longer first stint work before charging through the field late on.

The podium was completed by Frijns, who despite hitting the wall managed to continue and cash in from d’Ambrosio’s error to finish third for Andretti. Stephane Sarrazin bounced back from an issue on the grid to finish fourth ahead of Bruno Senna and da Costa.

Daniel Abt ended the race in seventh ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr, who also made a longer first stint work to charge through for his first points of the year. Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost rounded out the points in Putrajaya.

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”