Buemi opens Formula E season three with Hong Kong victory

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HONG KONG – Defending FIA Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi started his title defence in confident fashion with victory in Sunday’s Hong Kong ePrix for Renault e.dams.

Buemi headed up a podium that also featured long-term rival Lucas di Grassi and Mahindra driver Nick Heidfeld, in a repeat result of the top three from last year’s season-opener in Beijing.

However, the race that led to the result was a far cry from the procession in China last fall, with Buemi’s win the result of a perfect strategy call.

Qualifying sprung a surprise as season one champion Nelson Piquet Jr. took his first pole position in Formula E, heading up a front-row lock-out for NextEV as teammate Oliver Turvey qualified second.

While Piquet was able to retain his advantage in the early stages, Turvey slipped back behind Sam Bird and Buemi, who began to reel in the race leader as the car swaps approached.

A crash for rookie driver Jose Maria Lopez turned the race on its head, slamming into the chicane that had caused issues for a number of drivers through qualifying. Piquet was the first driver to arrive at the crash site, and was forced to take to the run-off area so he did not hit the DS Virgin Racing driver. This caused him to slip back to third, handing the lead to Bird.

A safety car period was called as a result of Lopez’s shunt, prompting Renault e.dams to bring Buemi in. DS Virgin kept Bird out, hoping that he could forge a lead by going longer when the race resumed. The Briton pushed until he had just 1% energy left to use in his car before coming into the pits, where an issue meant he could not get away immediately, ending his hopes of victory and points.

This handed Buemi the advantage up front, who now had di Grassi for company. Di Grassi had been caught up in a melee at Turn 2, forcing him to pit for repairs early before coming in a second time for his car swap. The safety car played into the ABT driver’s hands, allowing him to rise to second. Although he could not catch Buemi, the Brazilian was nevertheless pleased after starting way down in P19.

Heidfeld rounded out the podium after following Buemi’s lead on strategy, while Nicolas Prost was fourth in the second Renault e.dams car.

Andretti enjoyed its strongest points haul in Formula E since the Long Beach round in season one as Antonio Felix da Costa and Robin Frijns finished fifth and sixth, the latter bouncing back from a crash in qualifying that left his car in need of a re-build.

Jerome d’Ambrosio was another driver to perfect his strategy, finishing seventh for Dragon after starting down in 18th. Oliver Turvey salvaged some points on a tough day for NextEV, finishing eighth while teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. was P11. Maro Engel finished as top rookie in ninth, with Venturi teammate Stephane Sarrazin following in P10.

Jaguar’s debut did not yield any points, with Adam Carroll its sole finisher in P12, while Felix Rosenqvist scored a point for the fastest lap despite finishing as the last classified driver in P15.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”