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Buemi’s Formula E title hopes set for red-eye test in Mexico

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Sebastien Buemi may have swept the opening three races of the 2016/17 Formula E campaign with wins in Hong Kong, Marrakesh and Buenos Aires, but the Renault e.dams driver is set to face his toughest challenge to date in Mexico this weekend.

Because as well as taking on the usual pretenders at the front of the Formula E field, Buemi will also battle against a foe arguably greater than them all: jet lag.

For while the majority of the Formula E grid ventures to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on Friday to carry out the usual media duties and pre-race shakedown, Buemi will only arrive on Saturday, having flown overnight from Milan in Italy.

Buemi will be at Monza on Friday to launch Toyota’s new TS050 Hybrid car that will race in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship ahead of the two-day ‘Prologue’ test over the weekend.

While Buemi himself will not be testing, he will nevertheless be making the jaunt over the Atlantic once his duties with Toyota are complete, getting in to Mexico City early on Saturday morning. Opening practice is due to start around 8am local time.

It will be the toughest test Buemi’s title challenge has faced thus far. The Swiss driver dominated proceedings in all three of the opening races, battling through to claim victory with great confidence. The Renault e.dams package is the class of the field in Formula E this year, and the same can be said of Buemi.

Quite how he battles the tiredness inevitable after a flight – even if he’s unlikely to be traveling in coach – will be of particular intrigue.

The circumstances of Buemi’s weekend could open up an opportunity for his chief rivals who have no WEC commitments to worry about at Monza, primarily Lucas di Grassi and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Di Grassi lost his place in WEC following Audi’s withdrawal from LMP1 at the end of last year, and although he is keen on appearing at Le Mans, it does not look like the Brazilian will be embarking on a full campaign in the endurance series.

The ABT Schaeffler team has been Renault’s closest challenger through the first two Formula E seasons, with di Grassi being in the title race at the final round in both years. After Buemi’s flying start to season three, Mexico offers a big, big opportunity for di Grassi to cut the gap.

The same opportunity exists for Vergne, who, despite signing up with Manor in WEC for 2017, will not be in Monza. The Frenchman may race for one of the leanest teams on the grid in Techeetah, but races with the same Renault powertrain as Buemi, making him a serious contender for victory.

Vergne finished second in Buenos Aires after setbacks in the opening two races, and arguably has his best shot yet at a breakthrough Formula E victory on Saturday in Mexico City.

For Buemi, there is the added concern that he will most probably have to miss the New York City double header in July due to commitments in WEC at the Nürburgring. His lead may already be a substantial 29 points, but with a possible loss of 50 to his rivals later in the year, every point in Mexico will be crucial.

Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”