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

Photo: NIO Formula E Team
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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

IndyCar has big plans on, off track for first test at Thermal Club: ‘It’s an amazing facility’

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Quantity isn’t a problem for NTT IndyCar Series drivers seeking source material for their first test on track at The Thermal Club. There’s plentiful video of the drivers making laps on the private track that bills itself as a world-class facility.

It’s quality that’s an issue with trying to do homework for their first (and possibly last) test on the 17-turn, 2.9-mile road course.

Thermal is billed as a motorsports country club of sorts, giving the rich and famous an opportunity to drive and store vintage cars at racing playground that has more than 200 members and $5 million, 30,000-square-foot homes sprouting constantly.

IndyCar’s arrival Thursday and Friday for its first full-field open test in the preseason since 2020 will mark a new era of professional racing at Thermal, which primarily has catered to amateurs (often in a fantasy camp-type setting).

Colton Herta tried doing some YouTube research on Thermal recently but gave up after watching the third lap of “some dude in a Ferrari” navigating the course that is nestled in the Coachella Valley just south of Joshua Tree National Park and north of the Salton Sea.

“It’s difficult to watch some of the onboards because it’s not really professional drivers, and they have like the cones set out on the track, where to turn in and where to get on the brakes, so it’s kind of irrelevant,” Herta said. “Yeah, I watched a little bit before I got too bored and turned away. But the track walk will be important. That’s going to be the biggest thing.”

The track walk happened Wednesday afternoon after two days of wall-to-wall media obligations at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Conor Daly and Scott McLaughlin were among many drivers who were antsy to head southeast to the ritzy track (where many drivers have been staying in high-end casitas on the 470-acre property this week). Herta said his main concern was having enough runoff area as drivers knock off the offseason rust because “you do tend to drop a wheel here and there, have a spin if you’re getting back in the car for the first time in a few months.”

“I sort of don’t really know where the track goes,” McLaughlin said. “I feel like I’m going to get lost out there.”

With IndyCar increasingly limiting test time, Daly said sessions such as Thermal “are really, really important. We can train all we want, but there’s nothing like getting in these cars to drive to really prepare yourself for the first race. It’s going to be important to try to do as many laps as possible.”

Of course, what makes Thermal even more rare is that it’s not on the IndyCar schedule nor has it been a testing venue in the past. Sebring International Raceway also doesn’t play host to a race, but it’s become a tried and true place for teams seeking to hone their setups.

An IndyCar Series hauler is unloaded Monday at The Thermal Club track ahead of preseason testing Thursday and Friday (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

Thermal will be the first time IndyCar is learning an entirely new track since the streets of Nashville nearly two years ago, but in this case, it’s unknown how applicable it’ll be in the future. Some drivers speculated that it could translate to Portland with its length (lap times are projected at more than a minute and 40 seconds), but it’s an unknown how slippery the surface will be for tire wear (probably 20-lap stints, which are relatively short).

“It’s hard when it comes to just two full days of testing because obviously some people will adapt to it quicker than others,” Daly said. “You might feel like a hero, then the next day you might feel like a zero because some people have caught up.

“But these days are important because hopefully it is an indication for us on all the permanent road circuits that we go: Mid-Ohio, Laguna Seca, Indy GP. Hopefully it’s helpful for us in all those scenarios. We’ll see what happens, I guess. It doesn’t matter to us how fast we go, as long as we get something out of it, right? How do we judge some changes? If that’s great for a certain section of the track, right, that could represent a section of another road track we go to. There’s a lot that we can learn, for sure. Realistically we kind of have to keep ourselves  in check with our expectations.”

Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden said drivers “probably shouldn’t come out of here either too excited or too demoralized depending on how it goes because it is not incredibly relevant when it comes to at-track performance. We’re never going to run here again. Well, I shouldn’t say that. We’re not going to run here this year for a points-scoring race. From that standpoint, it’s not relevant.

“What it is relevant for and what I’m excited about is just being on track. We definitely need it on the 2 car. We have a lot of new people. We’re going to maximize this time by just treating it like a race weekend in that we’re doing all the things we would do on a normal weekend to be fast and work well and efficient together. When we come out of the weekend we’ll have something to look at, what did we do well or not well. We have a good, relevant conversation piece to take into (the season opener at) St. Pete. From that standpoint it’s excellent. If we finish 15th on the charts, yeah, maybe we shouldn’t read too much into that.”

Said Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal: “I’m not sure how much (the Thermal track) relates. We’re running a Barber tire, similar to the Laguna Seca tire. Who knows what the track grip is like in the desert here. If you look at a lot of the corners, a lot of hairpins, a lot of slow speed corners, but then you’ve got like the end of the back straight is quite a fast left-hander. But they’re varying shapes of corners, decreasing radius, on increasing radius. We don’t have any tracks that do that traditionally.

“We’ve got to pick and choose exactly what we get out of it, but I’m all on board for the Thermal thing, so I don’t want to sound like I’m not. I think it was great to have change. We’ve kind of gone to the same places time and time and time and time again. It’s good to see something new.”

IndyCar also will be measuring the results of the test beyond timing and scoring.

The Indianapolis Star reported there have been informal talks about having a pro-am event in the future. With the test closed to the general public but open to its high-dollar clientele, there could be potentially millions of liquid capital at stake for future team investment if the Thermal Club’s members take a shine to IndyCar.

Thermal was throwing a posh welcoming event Wednesday night that was expected to have drivers, series executives and residents mingling with dancing and drinks.

Simon Pagenaud, who has explored the concept of starting a motorsports country club in his native France, is intrigued by the long-term marriage of IndyCar and Thermal.

“This kind of racetrack — what they do with their members, the passion of cars —  is really something,” Pagenaud said.

Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson likes the appeal of testing in Southern California instead of Central Florida.

“This time of the year, it’s really hard to find places for us to go testing,” Ericsson said. “I’ve only been here for four years, starting my fifth year, and I feel like I’ve done I don’t know how many days of testing at Sebring.

“For me, this is a lot better to come here. I like the idea a lot of having the preseason testing back on the calendar to get all the teams and drivers together.”

Said Alexander Rossi, who will be making his debut in an Arrow McLaren Chevrolet this week: “It’s always a difficult situation in January, February, in the United States to find a track that has the appropriate climate. Not only do we have a beautiful place to come with seemingly good weather, but you’re introducing IndyCar to obviously a demographic that has an interest in racing, with some decent capital behind them. They may not know of IndyCar. They may have known of IndyCar but never seen it in person.

“We’re able to bring and showcase what we believe is the best series in the world in front of people who are passionate about motorsports, participate in motorsports themselves, and maybe haven’t seen it before.”

McLaren teammate Felix Rosenqvist already has been staying at the villas inside the track all week.

“It’s an amazing facility,” he said. “I’ve never been here before. I was really blown away by how neat and tidy everything looks.

“I don’t know if there’s ambitions to race here in the future. That could be an option. I’m just pumped to be in California in January. There’s worse places to be.”