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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’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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