Photo: NIO Formula E Team

Formula E: Filippi joins NIO; Andretti rebrands ahead of test

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The FIA Formula E Championship’s preseason testing takes place in Valencia, before season four launches later this winter in Hong Kong.

A few notes going into that are below.

FILIPPI IN FULL-TIME SEAT WITH NIO

Veteran open-wheel driver Luca Filippi, who raced in parts of four IndyCar seasons from 2013 to 2016 after also racing and winning regularly in GP2 prior to that, will enter a full-time seat with the NIO Formula E Team.

NIO Formula E Team Driver Portraits.

“Let me first thank everyone in NIO for the great opportunity given to me to race in the FIA Formula E Championship. It is a new electric world for me and a new racing system oriented to the future that is full of talent and clean technology, so I am extremely excited to become a part of it.

“During our first test run together in Spain I immediately had a great feeling with the car and all the people in the team. To join NIO for S4 is a dream come true and I am very much looking forward to working with Oliver and Gerry and starting this journey with everyone in the NIO Formula E team.”

The Italian replaces Nelson Piquet Jr. as Oliver Turvey’s teammate, Piquet going off to Panasonic Jaguar Racing for the new year. Turvey (No. 16) and Filippi (No. 68) also have new car numbers aboard the NextEV NIO 003 chassis. A slightly revised teal livery has some red on it as well and the social media hashtag, #BlueSkyComing, is the meaning of the company’s Chinese name, Weilai.

“Season 4 sees us welcome Luca Filippi on-board with the NIO Formula E Team and I firmly believe that these two drivers will form a formidable driver pairing for the coming season. Whilst Luca is new to the series he brings with him a wealth of motorsport experience which our young dynamic team will be looking to exploit,” said Gerry Hughes, NIO Formula E team principal.

ANDRETTI REBRANDS TO MS&AD ANDRETTI

Michael Andretti’s Formula E team has its fourth name in as many seasons. Just Andretti Formula E Team in season one, becoming Amlin Andretti Formula E in season two and then MS Amlin Andretti in season three, the team is now MS&AD Andretti in season four (Twitter handle is now @msadAndrettiFE as well). MS&AD, a Japanese insurance giant, is the parent company of Amlin.

“We hold the risks for people, businesses and communities around the world and mitigating the impact of extreme weather is very important to our clients and our business. Through Formula E we help present the world with a compelling case for switching to alternative fuel sources for our transport needs,” said Adrian Britten, MS Amlin’s Director of Brand.

Team owner Andretti added, “We are delighted that such an esteemed company as MS&AD is actively engaging in this exciting race series.  Our sponsors are a key partner in Andretti Autosport and we are look forward to bringing the exciting new race series to a wider audience, not least in Japan.”

On the driver front, the team has confirmed Antonio Felix da Costa back for a second full season while Tom Blomqvist and Alexander Sims, BMW works drivers, will test the team’s second car this week with view to a potential split race program between the two of them. This leaves Robin Frijns out of a seat despite two decent seasons.

“We are very fortunate to not only be testing two very capable drivers in Valencia but three top-level talents. Antonio has been in Formula E since the very start which makes him one of the most experienced drivers in the field and a huge asset to our team. Alexander had an important role as reserve and test driver in Season Three and is excited for a chance to show what he can do in Valencia. All three drivers are proven race winners in either Formula E or other race series and that is incredibly valuable. The whole team is looking forward to a productive week of testing for MS&AD Andretti,” said Roger Griffiths, co-team principal.

THIS WON’T BE CONFUSING AT ALL

A little over a month ago, we used snark to take on one of racing’s major problems in a tongue-in-cheek manner: IndyCar’s blue and white livery epidemic.

FIA Formula E may be on the cutting edge of battery technology, but it doesn’t appear to be on the cutting edge of different liveries… and it may also be going down a dangerous path of similar liveries.

Note the NIO and Andretti liveries above, with teal and/or blue appearing prominently, and now look below at the Renault e.dams and Panasonic Jaguar Racing liveries.

So we’ve got at least four teams on the grid of 10 – eight cars – that will look close or similar in nature going into the season. At least in Renault’s case, it’s a much lighter shade of blue compared to the NIO, Andretti and Jaguar liveries, which have similar designs and color palettes.

ANDRETTI, VENTURI LAST TO CONFIRM LINEUPS

With Andretti confirming the first of its two drivers and Venturi yet to confirm either of its two, these are the last two teams set to finalize their lineups ahead of season four. A few other confirmations – notably Mahindra’s re-upping of Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld along with Audi confirming Daniel Abt as a new works driver – have come in in the last couple weeks.

Venturi tests Edoardo Mortara, Michael Benyahia, Maro Engel and James Rossiter this week. FIA Formula E’s full breakdown of the test lineup is linked here.

Here’s the grid so far:

  • Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler: 1-Lucas di Grassi, 66-Daniel Abt
  • DS Virgin Racing: 2-Sam Bird, 36-Alex Lynn
  • Panasonic Jaguar Racing: 3-Nelson Piquet Jr., 20-Mitch Evans
  • Dragon Racing: 6-Neel Jani, 7-Jerome d’Ambrosio
  • Renault e.dams: 8-Nico Prost, 9-Sebastien Buemi
  • NIO Formula E Team: 16-Oliver Turvey, 68-Luca Filippi
  • Techeetah: 18-Andre Lotterer, 25-Jean-Eric Vergne
  • Mahindra Racing: 19-Felix Rosenqvist, 23-Nick Heidfeld
  • MS&AD Andretti Formula E: 28-Antonio Felix da Costa, 27-TBA
  • Venturi Formula E Team: 4-TBA, 5-TBA

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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