BERLIN, Germany – Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi are cut from a very similar cloth. Both are seasoned racers. Both enjoyed stints in Formula 1 before going on to enjoy greater success in the FIA World Endurance Championship with major manufacturers.
And both are now preparing for a final scrap for the second Formula E title.
This time around, it’s just the two of them who can realistically clinch the title. DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird is their nearest challenger, but with 44 points separating him from di Grassi in the lead, and given the added weight his car carries due to the twin-motor powertrain design, it seems unlikely that the Briton will bridge the gap.
Di Grassi arrives in Berlin not only as motorsport’s man in form. He has crossed the line first in the last three Formula E races, winning two given his disqualification in Mexico, and picked up his first FIA WEC victory for Audi at Spa two weeks ago. Arguably, only Nico Rosberg (F1), Simon Pagenaud (IndyCar) and Kyle Busch (NASCAR) can boast a similar record of late.
Combining this with an 11-point lead over Buemi in the championship, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is di Grassi’s title to lose. The ABT Schaeffler Audi driver does not see it that way though.
“The championship title is completely open and I don’t do calculations,” di Grassi said. “We just try to optimize the weekend.
“Every Formula E race is a completely different race. It’s a very short day for free practice, qualifying and race. One small mistake or one small problem can lead to a bad weekend.
“Of course we try to optimize and get the most amount of points possible. But because there are 90 points still on the table, everything is very open.
“Being in front of the championship or behind or here or there, we just try to get a good weekend.”
However, he has not won a race since the Punta del Este ePrix at the end of last year, with qualifying proving to be an Achilles heel for the Swiss racer so far this season. The loss of the planned Moscow race in June gives Buemi one race less to catch di Grassi, but he is not overly concerned.
“To be honest, whether we have one more race or one less doesn’t really matter. Either way, it could be good or bad for one more race,” Buemi said.
“London, everything could happen with the weather and the track is so special. Here, obviously we want to win, we want to do the maximum like Lucas said.
“But you don’t really think about the championship. You want to focus on small details on the build up to the race, to make sure you have a strong car for the race. And then we’ll see.
“We’ll fight hard, we want to score more points than them, but it’s still very open.”
The track in Berlin will be new for all drivers following the move from the old Tempelhof Airport – currently housing thousands of refugees – to the city centre near Alexanderplatz.
It features a mix of short straights, slow corners and quick kinks, with the slower nature of the track posing more of a challenge to drivers in terms of energy management.
“The amount of energy saving here is similar to Mexico, so you guys have an idea in terms of how much it is, which is one of the highest of the season and probably the highest of the season,” di Grassi explained.
“Like I said many times before, I think Renault came for this year with the best package. As you all know, you have to homologate your hardware at the beginning of the year so you cannot change. You have to race what you homologate at the beginning of the year.
“I think they still have the best drivetrain package. They have a lot of know-how. We also have a very good package and we managed to improve in all the areas that we could during the year to try to match them. I think it all goes down to details. Every race is a different race.”
With temperatures set to be higher in Berlin than they were in Paris, the heat issues that cost Buemi with his tires last time out should no longer be a concern, making him more of a threat to di Grassi.
“I think we should be better, clearly. Looks like we will have to do a lot of saving in the race as well,” Buemi said.
“This is good for us to be honest. We will see in qualifying what happens. Paris was difficult because overtaking was difficult.
“If you were not starting at the front, it was making it a bit more difficult, where here I think it’s a bit more open to pass.
“Here we focus as much as possible during free practice and qualifying to make sure we get a good starting position.”
Buemi and di Grassi may be rivals in two series, but they enjoy a strong mutual respect that is often hard to find in racing. This was clear in a thrilling, hard and fair battle during the 6 Hours of Spa when the two went wheel-to-wheel at some of the circuit’s fastest and most notorious corners.
“When we were fighting them, there was one time when Sebastian was overtaking me and I overtook back, and then he overtook me back again very quickly at Blanchimont,” di Grassi said with a smile.
“Racing is about this, it’s about fighting. Everybody has respect for each other, everybody is fighting. It doesn’t matter if we’re fighting with 1,200 horsepower hybrid machines or 300 horsepower electric cars, the fight is always interesting.
“It’s always fun when you have similar equipment and a very high level of drivers. That’s what I like about racing, being able to fight. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
“The respect and the fairness and the fairplay is always important.”
John Force may be 69 years old, but Sunday he proved he is still a major force to reckon with in NHRA Funny Car competition.
The winningest driver in NHRA history, the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion won his 149th national event Sunday, capturing the Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado (suburban Denver).
Force (4.075 seconds at 315.42 mph) defeated 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps (4.067 seconds at 308.71 mph) in the final round to earn his first win in over a year.
Force has now won at least one race in each of the last 31 seasons and qualifies for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“The fire is back in me, I’m fighting,” Force said. “I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself. My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. … I don’t know why I won this race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”
Admittedly, before Sunday, he has struggled for much of the last year since his last win.
“I found myself with all the crashes and everything that happened probably at the lowest point in my career,” Force said. “It has been worse than when I crashed in 2007 (in the worst wreck of his career).
“I have been fighting to get back. I never let on to anyone but it showed that I just looked like a mess. I am fighting to get back. I had four crashes (this season) and after my last one I had John Bandimere (owner of Bandimere Speedway) call me and say, ‘We have to talk.’ I said ‘I know you love God and I know where you want to go.’ He told me to listen to him and he set me straight.
“I didn’t know if I would ever get back in position to win a race. Bandimere told me I could and I won’t stand here and preach the Gospel but he said when I get to Denver I will be fixed. He didn’t say I was going to win but that I would be fixed. He told me to go out there and show me who John Force is.”
It was Force’s eighth win (and first there since 2016) and 13th final round appearance at Denver in his career, making him the winningest Funny Car driver ever at Bandimere Speedway.
Force defeated daughter and No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in the semifinals to set up the deciding run vs. Capps. Prior to defeating Courtney, Force beat Matt Hagan and Cruz Pedregon in the first two rounds of eliminations earlier in the day.
“I had to beat a lot of great racers today, Hagan, Cruz, Capps, I love them all,” Force said.
Here are more tidbits about Force’s day, which leaves him one win away from 150 career wins:
Force now has 1,303 round wins in his career. He has beaten 137 different drivers en route to that mark.
376 of those round wins came against 15 world champions including two-time champ Matt Hagan, against whom he improved his record to 21-17 with today’s first round victory.
Force claimed 152 round wins at the expense of the Pedregon brothers: Cruz, Tony and Frank.
He has beaten fathers and sons (Jim and Mike Dunn, Paul and Mike Smith, Tim and Dan Wilkerson) and brothers (Cruz, Tony and Frank Pedregon along with Ron and Jon Capps)
He has beaten Cruz Pedregon 70 times, more often than any other driver
He earned 21 round wins against daughters Ashley Force Hood and Courtney Force and 22 against Robert Hight, his protégé and the father of granddaughter Autumn Hight.
He has won rounds on 27 different tracks in 18 states and Canada
He has won 128 rounds in three different events at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the most at any single track
He has won 76 rounds in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, the most in any single event
Other winners in the first of the NHRA’s annual three-race “Western Swing” (Denver; Sonoma, California; and Seattle) included Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, Greg Anderson won his first race of the season in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. earned his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win since 2015.
The race was the 14th of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
In Top Fuel, Pritchett (3.831 seconds at 316.45 mph) earned her second win of 2018 and seventh of her career. She was No. 1 qualifier for the event (also for the second race in a row and 10th No. 1 of her career) and defeated Doug Kalitta (3.852 seconds at 319.82 mph) for the win.
Prior to facing Kalitta, Pritchett defeated Terry Totten, Scott Palmer and Clay Millican in the first three rounds.
“Our crew has really impressed, attitude of gratitude, as high as the altitude here,” Pritchett said. “They chipped away at it and didn’t let themselves get down earlier this year when we were in a slump and they didn’t let me get myself down in a slump either. I always have my confidence in them and they have their confidence in me and this weekend we pulled it all together.”
In Pro Stock, Anderson earned his first win of the season, his third at Bandimere and 91st triumph of his career.
Anderson (6.943 seconds at 196.53 mph) defeated Summit Racing Equipment teammate Jason Line (6.947 seconds at 196.19 mph). Also, the victory put Anderson back atop the Pro Stock points standings.
“We have had a heck of a battle this year, we have had great running cars but we have made mistakes on Sunday and haven’t been able to close the deal,” Anderson said. “The class is so tough right now, it is so hard to win. The bottom line is we haven’t put forth our best effort on Sunday, we haven’t lost giving it our best shot and today we did.”
Anderson defeated Joey Grose, Vincent Nobile, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to advance to the finals showdown with Line.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. earned his first win since St. Louis in 2015 and his 12th career NHRA triumph.
In his first final round of the season, Arana (7.170 seconds at 185.89 mph), who earlier this year became the first rider to crack the 200 mph barrier, won easily when 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie fouled at the starting line.
“We have had a fast bike all the time, just been working on consistency and then when the bike was good I was making little errors,” Arana Jr. said. “Dedication, hard work, and practicing to bring it all together. Finally got over some hurdles over here and now we should be back on track.”
The Western Swing continues July 27-29 with the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
FINAL FINISHING ORDER:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Clay Millican; 4. Blake Alexander; 5. Scott Palmer; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Jim Maroney; 8. Richie Crampton; 9. Tony Schumacher; 10. Antron Brown; 11. Greg Carrillo; 12. Terry Totten; 13. Bill Litton; 14. Brittany Force; 15. Mike Salinas; 16. Terry McMillen.
FUNNY CAR: 1. John Force; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Courtney Force; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Tim Wilkerson; 8. Jack Beckman; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Jonnie Lindberg; 11. Matt Hagan; 12. Jeff Diehl; 13. Terry Haddock; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Shawn Langdon; 16. Todd Simpson.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jason Line; 3. Chris McGaha; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Deric Kramer; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Tanner Gray; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Drew Skillman; 11. Matt Hartford; 12. Fernando Cuadra; 13. Erica Enders; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Joey Grose; 16. Will Hatcher.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Hector Arana Jr.; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Scotty Pollacheck; 6. LE Tonglet; 7. Steve Johnson; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Angie Smith; 11. Jim Underdahl; 12. Angelle Sampey; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Joey Gladstone; 15. Cory Reed; 16. Eddie Krawiec.
TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,132; 2. Clay Millican, 959; 3. Leah Pritchett, 949; 4. Tony Schumacher, 930; 5. Doug Kalitta, 893; 6. Antron Brown, 750; 7. Terry McMillen, 696; 8. Brittany Force, 658; 9. Richie Crampton, 576; 10. Scott Palmer, 544.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 1,156; 2. Matt Hagan, 946; 3. Ron Capps, 930; 4. Robert Hight, 911; 5. Jack Beckman, 906; 6. J.R. Todd, 832; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 746; 8. John Force, 735; 9. Shawn Langdon, 647; 10. Bob Tasca III, 596.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 1,044; 2. Tanner Gray, 976; 3. Erica Enders, 969; 4. Vincent Nobile, 947; 5. Chris McGaha, 875; 6. Drew Skillman, 842; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 838; 8. Bo Butner, 782; 9. Jason Line, 778; 10. Deric Kramer, 725.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 591; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 564; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 501; 4. LE Tonglet, 493; 5. Jerry Savoie, 481; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 417; 7. Matt Smith, 411; 8. Angie Smith, 304; 9. (tie) Hector Arana, 289; Angelle Sampey, 289.