Photo: Mahindra Racing

Felix Rosenqvist captures first Formula E win in Berlin race one

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Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist has won in a lot of disciplines and the super, speedy Swede added another win to his resume on Saturday at the Tempelhofring Circuit in Berlin, Germany, his first victory in the FIA Formula E Championship, in what is also the first for the Indian team in the series.

In Round 7 of the 2016/17 championship, this is only the second race points leader Sebastien Buemi has not won. Lucas di Grassi won in Mexico City, Round 4, but otherwise Buemi went five for six prior to today’s race.

Rosenqvist led the opening portion of qualifying before falling to third in the Super Pole session, but quickly got into second off the line behind ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver di Grassi, who took pole. Jose Maria Lopez of DS Virgin Racing got a horrendous start from second and slipped back to fourth.

He hounded di Grassi for the first stint of the 44-lap race around the airport circuit before di Grassi gave up the position into the sweeping Turn 1 just before the pit stop to swap cars. Rosenqvist darted around the outside and would thus have the lead going into the pit stop sequence.

The only concern for him from there was whether he’d be able to follow through with the lead after the car exchange, but he did just that, and controlled the pace for the remainder of the race.

Di Grassi was second, 2.232 seconds behind, while Nick Heidfeld completed Mahindra Racing’s banner day with another third place. It’s the German’s third straight third-place finish and fourth overall this season, for the fourth place driver in points heading into the race.

Lopez finished fourth, while Jean-Eric Vergne was fifth on the road before a time penalty assessed that dropped him to ninth, and Buemi took a pivotal fifth to make something of his day, as we’ll note below.

The Swiss driver qualified only 14th but improved to sixth on the road, a gain of eight positions. That became fifth with a five-second time penalty assessed to Techeetah’s Vergne for an unsafe release in his pit stop, and dropped the Frenchman down the order.

All told, di Grassi cut a bit into the 43-point lead Buemi of Renault e.dams had going into the race, but not near as much as he could have with Buemi doing an excellent job of damage limitations.

It was only a net 11-point swing with di Grassi picking up 21 points (18 for second, three for pole) and Buemi 10 (for fifth), and so Buemi holds a 32-point lead going into Sunday’s action. Theoretically, with di Grassi on pole and Buemi only 14th on the grid, the Brazilian had a chance to score a maximum 25 points for the race win and cut the lead to the teens, but it didn’t happen.

Beyond the top five, Nico Prost was sixth in the second Renault ahead of Sam Bird, Daniel Abt, Vergne and Maro Engel.

Elsewhere, Stephane Sarrazin was 13th in his first drive for Techeetah, neither Faraday Future Dragon Racing car made the points, and neither did either MS Amlin Andretti car, which ran longer in the first stint in hopes of leapfrogging the field on pit strategy, but it didn’t work out.

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida