Luke Smith

Formula E returns Monaco with the title fight alive again

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MONACO – Formula E makes its return to the streets of Monaco this weekend following a year’s break with the championship fight between Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi on a knife-edge.

Monaco first played host to Formula E back in 2014 during the all-electric series’ inaugural season as Sebastien Buemi became the first man to win more than one ePrix.

Fast forward two years, and the Swiss driver now has nine victories and a championship under his belt, with his hat-trick of wins to start the 2016/17 season thrusting him to the top of the title standings.

Buemi looked unstoppable at the head of the field until the fourth round of the year in Mexico City, when Formula E’s most dramatic race to date saw ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport’s di Grassi come back into contention.

Despite suffering damage and almost going one lap down, di Grassi rolled the dice on an ambitious strategy that worked out thanks to a couple of safety car periods and some impressive energy saving to get to the end and cross the line first.

With Buemi finishing outside of the points following an off-colour weekend that ended with a 12th-place finish, di Grassi slashed his rival’s advantage in the title race to just five points.

“I watched the race a couple of times and it was difficult to believe! From inside the cockpit, there was a different perspective,” di Grassi told NBC Sports.

“I only managed to win because the team managed to do a fantastic job with the strategy call, and with fixing the rear wing at the beginning. It was a mega race, my best Formula E victory so far. I’m pretty pleased with it.”

So as it has been for all three of Formula E’s seasons so far, the stage is set for another Buemi-di Grassi barnstormer this Saturday. But the Brazilian does not believe that the championship is something to yet have in mind.

“It’s very early to be talking about the championship. We’re round five, there’s another eight to go,” di Grassi said.

“Everything can happen. To be honest, JEV is quick, other guys are quick, Nico Prost is there. We just need that one bad weekend for everything to change again. At the moment we have to focus on winning races and collecting good points and that’s it.”

For Buemi, di Grassi’s revival has not been without its fair share of good fortune.

“I don’t want to sound rude but because they made mistakes it turned out to be some luck,” Buemi said. “I mean in qualifying in Hong Kong, he had a crash and because of that he had an accident in the first lap and because of the accident and because of this there was a safety car, they tend to have a very risky strategy in Mexico and in Hong Kong and it worked out very well.

“So congratulations to them but I am not sure it will be like that every weekend, so clearly I’m going to focus on not doing mistakes myself but they have made quite a few this season already.”

The circuit used in Monaco is similar to that in Formula 1, albeit much shorter. Instead of heading up the hill at Sainte Devote, drivers take a sharp right that leads them down a straight that ordinarily acts as the escape road for the Nouvelle Chicane.

The field will rejoin at the Chicane before completing the rest of the ‘regular’ Monaco lap, heading through Tabac, Swimming Pool and Las Rascasse before crossing the line to complete a lap.

The Monaco ePrix sees the third Formula E campaign edge towards its half-way mark, with the three double-header rounds to close out the season in Berlin (June 10-11), New York (July 15-16) and Montreal (July 29-30) now making up for half of the schedule in this campaign.

Following the Monaco race, the series will head to Paris just one week later on May 20, marking its first back-to-back race weekends.

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Former 5-time ALMS and Le Mans-winning team owner Dave Maraj killed in accident

Photo courtesy Dave Maraj Facebook page
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Well-known sports car team owner and automobile dealership owner Dave Maraj was killed Saturday night in a boating accident in Florida, according to SportsCar365.com.

Maraj’s Champion Racing teams won five consecutive American Le Mans Series championships from 2004 through 2008, and also captured the overall win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2005, the last American team to do so in the iconic sports car race.

IMSA President Scott Atherton released the following statement mourning Maraj’s passing:

Dave Maraj. Photo courtesy IMSA.

“All of us at IMSA are shocked and saddened by the news of Dave Maraj’s passing. As a team owner in the American Le Mans Series, Dave and his Champion Racing organization were the epitome of professionalism and excellence, as their five series championships and 24 Hours of Le Mans victory will attest.

“Dave was a tremendous competitor and a great friend to all in the paddock throughout his time in our sport. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dave’s family and friends and to all of his associates at Champion Motors.”

Maraj was a very successful automobile dealership owner, most notably Champion Motors and Champion Porsche in Pompano Beach, Florida, the latter considered the No. 1 Porsche dealer in the U.S.

Details of how Maraj died have not been released.

Maraj sold his racing operation after the 2008 season and devoted himself to his Porsche and Audi auto dealerships, as well as competitive sailing.