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Di Grassi, Buemi fired up as Formula E title fight nears conclusion

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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.

Di Grassi and Buemi have been here before. Last season, they were in the running for the championship until the very last race before Nelson Piquet Jr. edged the pair of them in a tense finale at London’s Battersea Park.

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.”

Buemi started the season as the overwhelming favorite thanks to the speed of his Renault e.dams powertrain during testing and the dominant victory he enjoyed at the opening round in Beijing.

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.”

The Berlin ePrix takes place on May 21.

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen finish 1-2 at High Point, tie for points lead

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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Time was running off the clock and Eli Tomac was going to give up the overall win to Ken Roczen, until the Colorado native dug deep and made the pass for second in Moto 2 at High Point Raceway at Mount Morris, Penn. Roczen would win his third Moto of the season, but Tomac won the war.

With a third-place finish in Moto 1 and his second in Moto 2, Tomac grabbed the overall victory for the second time this season in Round 4 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship.

For Tomac, it was another difficult start to the race. He tipped his bike over in Moto 1 and fell back to fifth while battling two seconds behind the leader Blake Baggett. Tomac had to battle his way back toward the front again after barely cracking the top five in the first Motos in two of the first three rounds.

Roczen fared even worse in Moto 1. He finished sixth in that race – more than 34 seconds behind the leader Baggett. Determined to make up for his bad start, Roczen charged through the field in Moto 2 and took the lead from Cooper Webb on Lap 9.

“I was just going to charge,” Roczen told NBC Sports after his Moto win. “Do the best I can. I went back to my Colorado (last week) settings because the first race was awful; I couldn’t even ride.”

Tomac entered the round two points behind Roczen and was able to make up only those two points. The battle continues onto Florida next week with a tie for the top spot.

With a 2-5, Jason Anderson grabbed third overall.

Battling back from injury, Anderson faded in the closing laps of Moto 2, but is regaining strength each week.

Webb (third) and Zach Osborne (fourth) rounded out the top five in Moto 2 and finished fourth and fifth respectively overall.

Moto 1 featured a rider searching for his first Moto win in two years. Baggett earned the holeshot and held off an early advantage by Tomac. When Tomac fell, it handed second to Anderson, who finished nearly 10 seconds behind the leader.

“Every time I get out front here, I have that weird sensation of trying to keep it on two wheels,” Baggett said on NBC Sports Gold following his win.

Tomac was not the only rider to go down in Moto 1. Webb lost his pegs on Lap 9 and became the cape to his KTM motorcycle as he flew along holding tight to the handlebars. He recovered in that race to finish seventh.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

Adam Cianciarulo remains perfect in the 250 class. Winning Moto 2 in each round so far this season, Cianciarulo has capitalized on his late event surges to sweep Victory Lane in the first four weeks.

It wasn’t an easy run for Cianciarulo, nonetheless. He was only fifth at the end of Lap 1 in Moto 1 and was forced to slice through the field to get to second at the checkers of that race.

“Just coming to the races now – coming to outdoor nationals now – compared to the past, it’s just an entirely different vibe,” Cianciarulo said on NBCSN after the race. “It’s like I’m experiencing it for the first time because for the first time in my whole pro career I believe in myself.

“It’s a process when you hit rock bottom and start coming back.”

Hunter Lawrence stole the show in Moto 1. Earning his first career win handily, he came out in Moto 2 and proved it was not a fluke by finishing third in the race and taking second overall.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence said on NBC Sports Gold following his Moto 1 victory. “It’s just a Moto win, but it’s a big milestone in our trip and campaign.”

Chase Sexton earned the holeshot in Moto 1, but faded to fourth at the end. Sexton kept Cianciarulo in sight in the back half of Moto 2 to finish second in the race and third overall.

With a 3-4, Dylan Ferrandis finished fourth overall with Colt Nichols (5-5) finishing fifth.

After losing the overall at Thunder Valley amidst controversy, Justin Cooper wanted to make a statement. He barely raised his voice with a sixth in Moto 1 and a ninth in Moto 2 to finish ninth overall.  He lost another 20 points to the points leader as Cianciarulo starts to edge away from the pack. Cooper remains second in the points, but is now 26 back.

Garrett Marchbanks went down hard on Lap 4 of Moto 1 and had the bike land on his head. He did not start Moto 2, but there have been no report of injury yet.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[4] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II)
[3] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)

250MX
[4] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[1] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I)

Next race: WW Ranch Motocross Park, Jacksonville, Fla. June 22

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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