Extreme E’s Saudi Legacy

Last weekend’s Extreme E burst onto the motor racing scene with an enthralling opener in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. But whilst Rosberg X Racing’s Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor were (metaphorically) tearing it up on the track, important environmental work was happening off it. In the build-up to the inaugural round, Extreme E placed heavy focus on to the championship’s desire to leave a positive, lasting impact on the local environment. They claim that not only will each event be completely carbon neutral, but a “legacy program” will also be set up in each location.

For the Saudi Arabia X-Prix, desertification and plastic pollution were the main areas that were focused on, with the legacy program seeing Extreme E support the Ba’a Foundation to help with turtle conservation on the Red Sea coastline. In particular, the program aims to protect the endangered Green turtle, and the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle, both of which are suffering from entanglement, rising sand temperatures, and nest flooding due to rising sea levels. Many of the drivers also took part in a clean up of the Ras Baridi beach.

The drivers have come together to support Extreme E’s causes off the track – Courtesy of Charly Lopez

At the start of each session, the all-electric off-road series broadcast information regarding the issue of desertification, and how it is affecting local communities. Desertification is the process by which fertile land is transformed into a desert, typically brought on by drought, rising temperatures, or improper land management. The effects of this can be catastrophic. As the deserts grow, the amount of land available for farming crops diminishes, which results in the loss of food for the community and increases famine. The amount of available water is also reduced, and Extreme E regularly highlighted this across the weekend.

Throughout its first race weekend, Extreme E also implemented several other measures that ensured it would be the most sustainable sport possible. No single-use plastics were used on site, communal water stations were placed, and food packaging was made from Polymateria (a biodegradable plastic). The batteries themselves were charged using hydrogen fuel cells manufactured by AFC Energy. These are completely emission free and only have water as a byproduct. The water from the fuel cell was collected and either used to clean the cars, or shared between local communities. AFC Energy also signed a memorandum of understanding with Altaaqa, operator of a large mobile diesel generator rental fleet, meaning both companies share a common goal of transitioning the region away from fossil fuel dependence, and towards zero emission energy. This, however, is not legally binding.

On the whole, it appears that Extreme E’s inaugural event was a big success both on and off the track. It is already clear that the series doing many things to ensure the only trace they leave is a positive legacy.

Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock to make their World Rally Championship debut.

The 2019 European Champions will be making their first start in the WRC at this month’s Rally Croatia for a team named Rally Warrior. They are a brand-new team, and they will be going up against some more experienced drivers and teams. Never-the-less, there is no doubting the quality of this duo, and they will be a crew to watch, and they will know the car that they are about to take this opportunity, having driven a Skoda Fabia Evo Rally 2 to the ERC title.

If you read my interview with Chris from last years Autosport International, you will know that Chris and Ross crowdfunded their drive to the 2019 ERC title. If you haven’t, I recommend that you check it out. The good news is that this deal is for two seasons, and is fully supported by a number of big backers, giving them a fantastic platform to be able to concentrate all of their preparations on the events, and not have all these distractions for getting backing organised for events.

Chris has joined forces with the vastly successful SXM Competition team from Belgium to pilot a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. “As a team we wanted to do another program in WRC-3, because this is the highest level of motorsport. I was very honoured that Chris contacted me to see if we could have a collaboration, said Fred Miclotte from SXM Competition. “I have known Chris and Ross already for some time and I’m sure they form a fantastic team together. I think that we all have the same goal for 2021. We all want to show our potential and that’s why I believe so much in it.”

 

Let’s hear from Chris.

What does this opportunity mean to you?

“It means the world to me and I’m so fortunate. When you grow up in a country that produced Richard Burns and Colin McRae, two of the best rally drivers that ever lived, it’s a massive source of inspiration. When you’ve got the kind of passion for this sport that I have you want nothing more than to try to get to the WRC and achieve just a fraction of what they did. Of course, they were world champions and obviously that’s the ultimate goal, but it takes time, talent and a phenomenal amount of hard work to get that far. It also needs financial support and I wouldn’t be here without my main sponsor, CarFinance 247. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, just like I’ve done throughout my career.

“There have been some really tough moments to get this far but it feels so special to be able to say I’m a World Rally Championship driver,” said Ingram. “I’ve given everything I have to get this opportunity and I have so many people to thank and so much to be grateful for.

“Winning the ERC title in 2019 opened up lots of doors and I was close to landing a really good drive in 2020. The pandemic slammed all those doors shut, but I never gave up and never stopped believing my dream would come true. I’m so lucky to have this chance. “It’s a two-year programme and I can’t lose sight of that fact. It’s been almost 18 months since I last drove a top-level rally car so I’ve got to build up my confidence, learn the events and adapt to the championship because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The World rally rounds are another level. I’m going to give it everything.”

” You’ve secured a two-year programme. How important is that?

“It’s vital. Experience is so important in the WRC, which is so tough and competitive. And you only get experience by getting to the finish of each event you start. So, in year one, the objective is to keep a calm head, not do anything stupid, learn as much as possible and complete as many kilometres as possible. Points and podiums on top of all that would be a massive bonus, but there’s no pressure on me to do that. The only pressure is to get myself in a position where I can go for top results in year two.”

Why are you worthy of this chance?

“I’m totally committed, totally determined and I’ve won two of the main titles below WRC level. I have sacrificed everything personally to be able to chase my rally dreams. It has been a challenging road to say the least just to get to this point, we had to launch a crowdfunding bid just so Ross and I could get to the final rounds of our European championship-winning season but thankfully we made it and lifted the trophy. I train hard and push myself to be the best that I can be and I am so grateful the people who have helped me to get this far.”

You’ve used your social media channels to promote HUMEN, The Men’s Mental Health Movement. Why?

“I achieved a dream when I became European champion. However, competing against some of the fastest rally drivers on some of Europe’s most dangerous roads wasn’t the challenging part. I was struggling, fighting and overcoming a much harder battle with my own mental health. I hope that by being open about my challenges it will help other men to get talking. I have struggled with hard times in my personal life. I became very depressed when everything hit me all at once, financial pressures, relationships, family illnesses and the thought I couldn’t continue my career. Going home just a few days after each rally and even after winning the ERC, I would get so depressed with my personal life and sink into a very dark place, as I didn’t seek help. Men should talk.”

What are biggest challenges you’ll need to overcome in the WRC?

“I’ve not driven a powerful rally car since November 2019, all the events I’m planning to do will be new for me, it’s a new team and I’m up against the best drivers in the world. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’ve never had it easy in my career. I’m looking forward to facing all of the challenges head on as always and I feel confident in the knowledge I have a fantastic team around to support Ross and myself.”

 

I for one am glad that Chris and Ross have this chance to compete in the greatest championship in the world, and will be keeping a close eye on their progress.

Miller v Mir: The Right Call

Credit: Suzuki MotoGP

The 2021 MotoGP season has got off to a flyer, after two pulsating rounds of action in the Qatari desert. Lap records have been smashed and the rookies have shown already that their time is now! What we’ve also now got is a dose of controversy.

The decision by the race stewards to not penalise either Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo) for their coming together during the latter stages of the Doha grand prix was divisive amongst fans, to say the least. Depending on which rider is preferred, comments have varied from mild annoyance at supposed ‘inconsistent stewards’ to calling for riders’ heads to roll. Impressive really, when you consider that both riders involved finished the race.

Whilst fans of rival riders will always be tribal in these instances (and it’s partly what makes the sport so loved), the accusations that the race stewards are inconsistent could not be further misguided. The referees of the motor racing world have the unenviable job of trying to keep order of 22 adrenaline-fueled racers going at it on track hammer-and-tongs treading an incredibly thin line between heroics and disaster. I say unenviable, but having done some officiating in sport events myself I can confirm it is also a very enjoyable (if often thankless) thing to do.     

To gain an understanding as to how the stewards came to their decision, one must accept that there are a series of protocols that must be followed – protocols ultimately governed by the rules/laws of that particular sport. First and foremost is reviewing the evidence in chronological order, to determine what happened. 

Now knowing that, below is what objectionably happened with the two incidents:

Mir outbreaks himself into turn 6, resulting in his bike overshooting the apex. Mir corrects this by sitting the bike up, however he makes contact with Miller, and the two are forced out wide. However, Miller is not forced to take evasive action, neither are he and his bike sent tumbling into the gravel. Mir – as mentioned – is deemed to be making corrective action. Lastly, Miller is not forced beyond the track limits, so Mir’s overtake is allowed to stand. As such, no ill-intent can be proven, so it is simply classed as a ‘racing incident’. 

So far, so good. Now we move on to the second incidents where the roles are reversed.

Miller outbreaks himself into the final corner, and he overshoots the apex. Miller then ‘squares off’ the corner and begins to sit the bike up. As he does so, he makes contact with Mir. However, as with the first incident, Mir is not forced beyond the track limits, and he is not forced off the bike. If this was a stand alone incident it would be waived straight through as a legitimate overtake maneuver (albeit a very ugly one). 

However, because this incident has occurred almost immediately after the previous, the stewards are obliged to ensure there was no clear or blatant notion of the rider (Miller in this case) actively seeking revenge on another. This process has been thoroughly enforced following the controversial incidents between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi at Sepang in 2015, and Roman Fenati grabbing a rival’s brake lever at Misano in 2016. 

To aid with this process, the stewards have access to every camera angle possible – TV and closed-circuit cameras. As such, when reviewing the incident they can not just track the incident, but the moments leading up to it. It is the only way to ascertain whether an incident was premeditated or not. With that, it also enables the stewards to determine external events which may have contributed to the incident in question. In this case, both Mir and Miller are clearly under pressure from riders behind them as they make their attempted overtakes. As such there is a need and urgency from the rider to brake as late as possible to ensure not only their overtake sticks, but also keeps the chasers behind. 

Finally, track conditions are also accounted for – around the Losail circuit, when the wind picks up anywhere off the racing line becomes littered with sand and grip levels drop off the proverbial cliff. With this in mind you are left with two options: 1) Ban overtaking if clean passes can’t be guaranteed. 2) Accept that some overtakes will result in contact as riders struggle for grip off the ideal racing line. 

When all is said and done it is therefore impossible to conclude that Miller intentionally set up an avoidable collision with Mir, nevermind any notion of actively seeking revenge – that one shall reside in a box labelled ‘conspiracy theories’. As such, the only decision the stewards can come to is to not penalise either rider. There is no doubt though that race organisers will have had words with both parties following the race that overtakes like that on a regular basis are not encouraged. 

No penalties this time and it was the correct call – but you can be sure the stewards will be keeping an eye on both riders next time out in Portimao just in case…

16 year old Pedro Acosta, Red Bull Ajo KTM, takes chequered flag in Qatar

The date 4th April 2021 may well go down in motorcycle racing history as the day that Pedro Acosta announced himself to the world. Still only 16 years old, the Spaniard pulled off one of the all-time great rides in any class in modern memory.

Pedro Acosta winner of the second round of the 2021 Moto3 Championship at Losail. Darryn Binder came second and in third place Niccolò Antonelli. Image courtesy of Rob Gray (Polarity Photo)|KTM.

Fans look back at 18th August 1996 when Valentino Rossi won his first 125cc Grand Prix at Brno or 6th June 2010 when Marc Marquez took his first victory in the same class at Mugello. You have to wonder in years to come just how historic the second race of the 2021 season will be in the career of young Acosta.

A rookie winning a race is nothing new, even in only his second race. What stands out though is that Acosta started from the pit lane along with six other riders, some eleven seconds after the lights went out to start the race. As the eighteen laps ticked away, Acosta and Romano Fenati (who finished tenth) dragged the late starters up to the main pack with seven laps remaining. Once there, Acosta picked his way through each rider and when he hit the front, and you might think he had over-used his tyres, he still pulled away. Darryn Binder nearly caught him by the end but the Red Bull rider held on to win by 0.039 seconds.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Acosta will be a star of the future as it was a young Fenati that finished second in his debut at Qatar in 2012 before winning in Jerez at the next round and he’s still in Moto3 at the age of 25 (largely through issues of his own creation).

Binder often featured in the leading pack and was so close to his second ever win. He was lucky to avoid being taken out by an incident involving his teammate John McPhee and Jeremy Alcoba however. With four laps to go, Binder led into turn one from Alcoba  who nearly clipped the back of the South African. Alcoba went over the handlebars and his cartwheeling Honda took out the innocent McPhee who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Scot reacted badly to being taken out of the race two weeks in a row and squared up to the Gresini rider before aiming a kick at his Spanish crown jewels. Both riders will receive a pit lane start at the next round at Portimao in Portugal on 18th April, with McPhee penalised one thousand Euros and 10 seconds and Alcoba one thousand Euros and five seconds.

The last step on the podium went to Nico Antonelli who won here five years ago. The Italian started twelfth and positioned himself in the top six with a lap to go. Fortunately for him, last week’s winner Jaume Masia took Gabriel Rodrigo wide half way around the lap and Antonelli popped up to fourth. The 25-year-old then passed his compatriot Andrea Migno for third and beat him to the line by 0.032 seconds. Masia came home seventh while Argentine rider Rodrigo was only thirteenth.

Kaito Toba, who won here in 2019, finished fifth for his second top ten finish in a row with the rookie taking his best finish so far with sixth. Ayumu Sasaki took his best Losail result in seventh followed by fellow Japanese rider Ryusel Yamanaka who took his best ever finish with eighth in his twentieth start. With Tatsuki Suzuki finishing twelfth and Yuki Kunii fifteenth (his first points finish) there were five Japanese riders in the top fifteen for the first time since Jerez 2019.

RESULTS (TOP 15)

1 – Pedro Acosta – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 25
2 – Darryn Binder – RSA – Petronas Sprinta Honda – 20
3 – Nico Antonelli – ITA – Avintia Esponsorama KTM – 16
4 – Andrea Migno – ITA – Rivacold Snipers Honda – 13
5 – Kaito Toba – JAP – CIP Green Power KTM – 11
6 – Izan Guevara – SPA – Gaviota Aspar Gas Gas – 10
7 – Ayumu Sasaki – JAP – Red Bull Tech 3 KTM – 9
8 – Ryusel Yamanaka — JAP – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 8
9 – Jaume Masia – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 7
10 – Romano Fenati – ITA – Sterilgarda Max Husqvarna – 6
11 – Jason Dupasquier – SUI – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 5

12 – Tatsuki Suzuki – JAP – SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda – 4
13 – Gabriel Rodrigo – ARG – Indonesian Gresini Honda – 3
14 – Max Kofler – AUT – CIP Green Power KTM – 2
15 – Yuki Kunii – JAP – Honda Team Asia Honda – 1

STANDINGS (TOP 15)

1 – Pedro Acosta – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 45
2 – Darryn Binder – RSA – Petronas Sprinta Honda – 36
3 – Jaume Masia – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 32
4 – Nico Antonelli – ITA – Avintia Esponsorama KTM – 26
5 – Izan Guevara – SPA – Gaviota Aspar Gas Gas – 19
6 – Kaito Toba – JAP – CIP Green Power KTM – 18
7 – Gabriel Rodrigo – ARG – Indonesian Gresini Honda – 14
8 = Sergio Garcia – SPA – Gaviota Aspar Gas Gas – 13
8 = Andrea Migno – ITA – Rivacold Snipers Honda – 13
10 – Tatsuki Suzuki – JAP – SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda – 12
11 = Romano Fenati – ITA – Sterilgarda Max Husqvarna – 11

11 = Jason Dupasquier – SUI – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 11
13 – Ryusel Yamanaka — JAP – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 10
14 – Ayumu Sasaki – JAP – Red Bull Tech 3 KTM – 9
15 – Carlos Tatay – SPA – Avintia Esponsorama KTM – 4

Un et Deux – the French reign at Doha

Round two under the Qatar lights found some riders floundering and some soaring. If it was thought to be a repeat of last weekend then audiences were in for a shock.

The qualifying had the biggest surprise which came from the rookie, Jorge Martin who took pole! With a 1.53.106 second lap, snatching it from Vinales, who was confident he had done enough at the flag. Next position went to Martin’s team-mate and Vinales ended up 3rd to round off the front row. The Suzuki’s still seemed to have issues with qualifying and ended up in 8th and 9th. Rossi made changes to his bike which turned out to hinder his chances at getting another 4th in qualifying this time and ended up 21st on the grid.

Martin takes pole on Saturday. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

All riders started Sunday on both rear and front soft tyres again, with the exception of Oliveira, Binder, Lecuona and Petrucci. Perhaps they had thought a different strategy may help them in the closing section of the race. Once again, the wind was blowing and causing sand to go across the track, meaning the tyres would degrade quicker.

The two front Ducati’s got a flying start, with Martin leading Zarco but it was Vinales that went backwards as Aleix Espargaro came through and took 3rd place from the Spaniard, a very surprising Oliveira, who was 12th on the grid, shot into 4th . The next 22 laps were sure to be exciting!

By lap three, Rins had already made the fastest lap, eager to make it to the front early on, now in 3rd place, he started putting pressure on Zarco.

Lap four was Bagnaia’s turn to take fastest lap. But it was the Suzuki’s that were looking menacing as Mir came through to 5th place and Rins took 2nd from Zarco. However, the Ducati took back the position on the straight.

Meanwhile the factory Yamahas were sticking to their plan, which was to conserve tyres and were in 9th and 10th place.

With 17 laps to go Martin was still leading, in only his second Moto GP race, from Rins and Zarco.

Martin leads Rins. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Performing well in the flowing corners, the Suzuki was putting pressure on the rookie, but the straight, once again was the time for Zarco to pounce, re-gaining 2nd.

Trying to hunt down Martin, Rins took back 2nd place from the Frenchman on turn 10 – lap 8. He knew he had to breakaway from Zarco before the straight. With 13 laps to go Oliveira started to go backwards, unfortunately, the tyre choice didn’t seem to be any better.

The two Petronas riders were struggling as well – not even in the top ten.

The top nine riders however, were starting to breakaway from the rest of the pack and were creating their own race. Martin still lead, now half-way through the 22 laps, whilst Vinales was bringing up the rear. The first six bikes were all four Ducati’s and the two Suzuki’s. Espargaro on the Aprilia, was the only bike not with it’s teammate, out in front of the two factory Yamaha’s.

Mir and Miller were battling for 5th place on lap 13, Mir touched Miller going underneath him to take the position. But, coming onto the straight Miller (43) went wide and and seemed to go straight into Mir, forcing him to go all the way back to 9th. There was an investigation from the stewards but both times were seen as racing incidents.

Things went from bad to worse for Alex Marquez who had a second DNF in a row as he crashed on lap 14.

However, things were looking good for Quartararo (20), who was moving through the front pack and was now 4th, behind the Ducati’s, with 8 laps till the end. Battling for the position alongside Rins, he knew he had to create a chance in order to get on the podium. His teammate was now in 7th with Mir still in 9th place. It seemed the Yamaha’s tactic was paying off.

With six laps till the end, 20 took 3rd place from 43, it was taken straight back on the start-finish line but a mistake going into the first corner from Miller meant Quartararo re-took 3rd once more. The battle for the podium was heating up.

The two Frenchmen then fought for 2nd on lap 18. Zarco tried to defend but Quartararo’s Yamaha had conserved tyres better and was stronger on the corners, meaning he was able to take 1st place as well on turn 14, leading into turn 15, from Martin. The rookie had shocked everyone by leading for most of the race. Martin wasn’t going to give his position away easily and on the straight the Ducati roared past the Yamaha. But, Quartararo re-gained first place soon after.

With four laps to go it was anyone’s call who would win. Quartararo now lead Martin, Zarco and Vinales.

Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Top Gun’ briefly took 3rd place from Zarco, which took Zarco out of the top three for the first time the whole race.

‘El Diablo’ started to pull away from the two satellite Ducati’s and with Vinales putting pressure on Zarco, Zarco decided he needed to try and make a pass on his teammate. Martin went defensive with two laps to go, not wanting to give away his position. Vinales couldn’t keep up with number 5 and Rins took 4th place from him into turn one on the last lap. The penultimate corner of the last lap was Zarco’s last shot at 2nd, after admitting in the post-race interview he was acting as a “… bodyguard for Martin…” he decided to over-take his team-mate to finish 2nd.

It was Quartararo that took the chequered flag, taking his fourth Moto GP victory alongside fellow Frenchman Zarco. The first time in 67 years that two Frenchmen have stood first and second on the podium in the premier class. Martin finished an impressive third to round off the podium. Fourth was Rins, fifth Vinales, sixth and seventh place were the factory Dukes and Mir managed to make up two places since the collision with Miller to finish seventh.

Zarco stood on the podium for the 50th time and now leads the championship with 40 points. Proving to be consistent with two second places in a row.

This thrilling battle was the closest Moto GP race in 73 years. Teams learnt from last weekend and everyone seemed far stronger.

There is now a two week gap until the next event, but the big news is Marc Marquez is said to be making a return in Portugal, which leads into the many European races. Will we see a fit, strong and hungry Marquez? Will the other riders be too far ahead of him? Or will we witness a masterclass performance?

Whatever the outcome, it is sure to be a thrilling ride.

 

Featured image courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Dream double-header making History for Brit in Qatar

It was a Qatar dream to end the double-header for British rider Sam Lowes in the jam-packed Moto2 race at the Losail International Circuit.

Sam Lowes, Winner of the second round of the 2021 MotoGP championship. Remy Gardner second and Raul Fernandez. Image courtesy of Rob Gray (Polarity Photo)|KTM

Sam became the first British rider since Mike Hailwood to win the opening 2 rounds of the season in the intermediate class since 1966.

Despite the victory, challenging weather conditions throughout the entirety of the weekend made it challenging for teams across the board – battling against the Doha winds and dust in order to find the pace and comfortable set-up for race day.

The Adriatic man Marco Bezzecchi lead the race for the opening laps after getting a fantastic start, however it wasn’t enough for the Elf Marc VDS rider to sit and watch behind him – as with 17 laps to go Sam was able to overtake and held on comfortably for the entirety. It wasn’t particularly peachy for all riders though, as things soon turned sour for a number of laps as the pressure was heightened. 

One of the victims of this was John Hopkins’ apprentice Joe Roberts who, although finished a respectable 6th last weekend under the lights – on the 8th lap tucked into a slide. This was also bad news for Ai Ogura, who in order to avoid Robert’s sliding machine had to run far wide off track. 

Joining fellow American rider was Cameron Beaubier who with 12 laps to go came off his machine. Cameron had been strong all weekend with the American Racing Team, last weekend finishing 11th. It had been a positive weekend for the team with Beaubier getting to grips with the track, bike and team despite the challenging conditions.

It wasn’t all sunshine and positive endings for the Brits today. Petronas SRT rider Jake Dixon suffered a fairly mystical accident with 7 laps to go today, looking upon inspection taking Marcel Shrötter down with him. The crash was not actually shown live, but instead panned to imagery of both riders and their machines down. Liqui Moly Intact GP rider Shrötter appeared up and unharmed during the live race, however Dixon was still down. Later reports confirmed that it was a solo racing incident on behalf of the Brit that unfortunately couldn’t be avoided by Shrötter. Thankfully, Jake confirmed on his Twitter account that although gutted with ending the weekend with a DNF he was feeling okay after the crash.

Following last weekends’ penalty involving team mate Xavi Vierge, it’s fair to say Jake is looking ahead to Portimao with a clean, fresh head with the focus to maintain the fantastic pace he’s shown in the opening two rounds of the championship.

Towards the end of the race Solunion Aspar Team rider Canet ended a tough weekend for the team in the gravel – following not far behind by SAG Team rider Thomas Luthi who has been fairly under the radar this weekend. The initial incident for Luthi made for worrying viewing, however the rider was up and unharmed.

It was a stunning race for Red Bull Ajo KTM team with last weeks’ runner up Remy Gardner showing no defeat this weekend. He consistently held good pace not letting Lowes get away. Smashing Luthi’s all-time lap record at the circuit in the final lap, Gardner walked away with another 20 points in the bag. Orange plastered the podium as joined beside his team mate was rookie Raul Fernandez who has shown great pace all weekend, proving that not all rookie’s need time to settle! 

Personal special mention to Stefano Manzi who, to say the least has had a few seasons of finding his feet again in order to find the right bike for him. He held strong and consistent pace today which was reflected highly in his lap times and ultimately his finishing result of 8th position. A fantastic result for himself and the Pons Racing team.

FIRST FIFTEEN RIDERS

1 – Sam Lowes

2 – Remy Gardner

3 – Raul Fernandez

4 – Marco Bezzecchi

5 – Ai Ogura

6 – Augusto Fernandez

7 – Celestino Vietti

8 – Stefano Manzi

9 – Xavi Vierge

10 – Fabio Di Giannantonio

11 – Tony Arbolino

12 – Bo Bensnyder

13 – Jorge Navarro

14 – Lorenzo Dalla Porta

15 – Albert Arenas  

Overall, what a way to kick start the season. This weekends’ racing is an absolute credit to all those working hard to ensure us viewers have access to a safe season of racing. The upcoming Portimao race leaves Lowes ahead of the game with 50 points in the bag, Gardner only shy behind with 40.

As they say where our bikes land next, vejo você em breve!

Extreme E: Alejandro Agag praises spectacular inaugural Desert X Prix but suggests changes will be made to the series

Alejandro Agag had nothing but praise for the way the first race of Extreme E’s history panned out, but is not afraid to look at ways in which to modify the format going forward.

The inaugural Desert X Prix was won by Team RosbergXRacing and their drivers Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor following an incredible cut-back manoeuvre on X44’s Sebastien Loeb which inevitably decided the race. This in part was due to the large amount of sand dispersed by the SUV’s on track which made visibility incredibly difficult for the following cars.

In the end, most of the races were decided by turn two and saw a consistent gap of 30 seconds between the drivers leaving something to be desired by fans who were expecting more dramatic and closer racing. In fact, some fans took to social media voicing their concerns about the format and the consequences for broadcasters when racing on sandy and snowy terrains.

Cristina Gutierrez (ESP)/Sebastien Loeb (FRA), X44, Courtesy of Charly Lopez

Prior to the weekend changes were made to the format, opting for a time trial qualifying session rather than a race. This was in response to reliability concerns after Chip Ganassi suffered an almost fatal accident in the first shakedown session. The series were worried that not enough cars would survive the weekend and in hindsight, this was the appropriate move. It is therefore within reason to suspect the series organisers will evaluate the first race and make improvements for the weekend in Senegal.

On potential changes to the series, Alejandro was open to the idea: “Yes. I am thinking of tweaks. I have two tweaks in my mind,” said Alejandro during the post-race press conference.

“I love the shootout. I am thinking that maybe that I do a draw, a lottery for who races. So we mix female and male drivers in all the races. Because otherwise, we are seeing that the teams are lining up all the men at one point and the woman second.”

All but Hispano Suiza XE used their male drivers first during the time trials on Saturday. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from this weekend is that the calibre of female talent is more of a match for any man out there. Stars such as Molly Talor, Catie Munnings, Christina Gutierrez and Laia Sanz proved more of a match for their male counterparts and really put themselves firmly on the map for motorsport fans worldwide.

“I think what we’ve seen today from the female drivers have been extraordinary,” Alejandro added.

There’s incredible talent and also incredible courage to see Catie with that tyre, fighting with the car and bringing the car to the finish line. How well Molly did on the race today. We have incredible talent here, and I am really happy that we have a platform. And believe me today, many millions I’m sure many millions are watching.”

|Photographer: Jordi Rierola|Event: Preseason Testing|Circuit: MotorLand Aragon|Location: Alcaniz|Series: Extreme E|Country: Spain|Season: 2020|Keyword: 2020|Team: Andretti United Extreme E|Car: Spark ODYSSEY 21|Driver: Catie Munnings|

On potential alterations to the Senegal Beach X Prix, Alejandro Agag will personally oversee an evaluation in the interim period: “We will go to Senegal and we will check the dust level there.”

“We’re going to check with SUVs and see what the level of dust is, and then we’ll take some decisions. I want to listen again, as many people in our ecosystem as I can like I did yesterday.”

As with the birth of any motorsport series there are always going to be changes made along the way. This is an ambitious and unprecedented task and any decision in terms of format will be largely a leap of faith, in part due to the lack of testing they are able to do. There is still enormous potential and growth to come from Extreme E.

What we have witnessed this weekend is a dream actualised. Alejandro Agag has been able to achieve a proof-of-concept and show the world that a sustainable, electric SUV rally series is possible. Alejandro is open to suggestions and improvements and that can only be a positive for a championship in its infancy.

I personally cannot wait for the next race in Senegal on the 29th-30th May!

Alejandro Agag: “This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

When the new FIA Extreme E (XE) World Championship begins in the desert sands of the Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia this weekend, it won’t just be simply the start of another racing series but a revolutionary concept whose on-track glammer is matched only by its lofty off-track ambitions.

Cast your minds back to January 2019, during the official announcement on the cold, rainy and wintery deck of RMS St. Helena. The motorsport world gathered in anticipation for what was to come. A new championship.

Alejandro Agag, CEO of both Formula E and Extreme E unveiled his dream, an off-road electric SUV racing series that would travel the world to draw attention to climate change through environmentally friendly racing.

The series will take place in five remote locations affected by climate change, where all the equipment and cars are transported by a ‘floating paddock’ cargo ship, which will also serve as a laboratory for scientists to conduct research and enact conservation projects.

The St Helena logistics ship. Courtesy of Colin McMaster.

Each team features a male and female driver who must take turns throughout each race, and competitors can earn a boost by performing big jumps and winning online fan votes.

Throw in a strong driver line-up including F1 champion Jenson Button , multiple-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

Courtesy of Extreme E

Something that fascinates me is the incredible mixture of young and established names in motorsport with the likes of Carlos Sainz Snr, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi involved in the series in some way. These personalities and brands are essential to providing Extreme E with a credibility amongst hardcore motorsport fans.

One the other hand you have Veloce Racing, a tech firm and esports squad taking its first step into real-world motorsport. Younger audiences will be familiar with their esports exploits but will inevitably follow with intrigue their transition into the physical world.

It carries the same energy as when ‘new money’ from the Industrial Revolution joined the ranks of the traditional aristocratic and landed gentry of Britain in the 18th century. We are seeing a blurring of the lines of what a traditional race team can look like.

Whether you are a racing ‘super-fan’, an environmentalist or a travel connoisseur, Extreme E has something for everyone.

Alejandro Agag, CEO, Extreme E, with all the drivers lined up in the background. Courtesy of Steven Tee.

But do not just take it from me, take it from the man who set up the whole series. During the official press conference Alejandro Agag spoke about his thoughts on the season opener:

“It would have been impossible to organise this race without our hosts and the teams” said Alejandro on the Friday morning before the opening qualifying session. “it’s an incredibly happy day for me. Many people did not think this was going to happen, that is true, this is quite out of the box.”

“This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

On the future of Extreme E Alejandro was keen to highlight that set it apart from the Formula E championship: “They are very different. Which one will be bigger? Who knows? They can both become very big, of course, I am keen on both.”

“In terms of manufacturers in season one (Formula E) we had Mahindra, Audi had support with Abt, Renault had support with DAMS. However, already here we have two in season one. We have Cupra, Hummer and Lotus which may become a full partner in the future.”

Importantly, as we have seen with Formula E manufacturers tend to come and go. This has left Alejandro with a philosophy which favours independent teams over manufacturers. With a strong independent line-up including teams owned by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Veloce, Nico Rosberg, Carlos Sainz Snr and many others, there is certainly a freshness and originality to this grid.

“There are very significant manufacturers who are interested in Extreme E. But you have to build championships independently of manufacturers because when they go, they go. […] Manufacturers are not necessary.”

On which team are the favourites going into the inaugural season, Alejandro was coy, suggesting a competitive title battle:

“Ganassi was looking strong, even though they had a technical problem this morning. But outside of them it looks really open. If I had nine dollars I would put one dollar on each of the other nine teams.”

There have been some minor last-minute alterations to the format in response to reliability. A qualifying race will now be replaced by a series of time trials on Saturday that will form the grid for the semi-final, crazy race and final showdown on Sunday.

On reliability, Alejandro played down his concerns:  “I’m not too concerned. “

“(During testing) 18 out of 20 cars broke down. Here this morning two out of nine broke. I hope no car breaks tomorrow but that’s part of racing. I have to say if seven out of nine cars broke this morning I would be concerned.”

Sam Lowes takes first win of the season in Moto2 in Qatar

Sam Lowes became the first British rider since the late, great Barry Sheene to win an opening grand prix of the season. Although Sheene’s last opening day victory was in 1979, he did win the opening races in both his title years 1976 & 1977 and Lowes will hope for the same success by the end of the season.

Sam Lowes, Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

The 30-year-old was in commanding form all weekend, second in FP1 and fastest in FP2 before taking pole position on Saturday. Although he was passed by both Bo Bendsneyder and Marco Bezzecchi at the start he soon took the lead and controlled the race from the front. After missing out on a challenge for the 2020 title through injury, the 2013 World Supersport champion will be hoping every race weekend goes as smoothly as this one.

Remy Gardner finished second for Red Bull KTM Ajo after passing his teammate Raul Fernandez with twelve laps to go. Although the Australian rider could not catch Lowes, he did finish three seconds ahead of third place after a solid ride. Fernandez dropped down to fifth place in the end but should be delighted with his showing over the weekend, especially qualifying on the front row on his debut.

The battle for the last step on the podium was a great one between Italian riders Fabio Di Giannantonio and Marco Bezzecchi. In the end, Gresini rider Di Giannantonio came out victorious and it was a great tribute to the late Fausto Gresini to see one of his riders on the podium. It was the fifth podium for the 22-year-old who is still chasing that first elusive win. Bezzecchi was fourth overall last season and is expected to be the main challenger to Lowes this year but missed out on the podium by just 0.013 seconds.

Joe Roberts and Jake Dixon were in close company for much of the race on Sunday. Dixon in particular can be pleased with his performance as he is still recovering from a wrist injury which will have hampered his ability and certainly his stamina. It can surely only be a matter of time before the Brit takes his first podium finish.

Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

Germany’s Marcel Schrotter finished eighth ahead of Bo Bendsneyder who achieved his second-best finish in Moto2. The Dutch rider looked much better on the Kalex chassis after riding Tech 3 and NTS since he graduated to the class in 2018. Jorge Navarro came home tenth on the first non-Kalex bike, the Boscoscuro which is a re-branded Speed Up.

American Cameron Beaubier had an impressive first race in Moto2. The five-times AMA Superbike champion qualified 22nd but made steady progress throughout the race and finished eleventh in front of rookie Celestino Vietti.

FIRST FIFTEEN RIDERS

1 – Sam Lowes – GBR – Elf Marc VDS Racing – 25 points
2 – Remy Gardner – AUS – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 20
3 – Fabio Di Giannantonio – ITA – Federal oil Gresini – 16
4 – Marco Bezzecchi – ITA – Sky Racing Team VR46 – 13
5 – Raul Fernandez – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 11
6 – Joe Roberts – USA – Italtrans Racing – 10
7 – Jake Dixon – GBR – Petronas Sprinta – 9
8 – Marcel Schrotter – GER – Liqui Moly Intact – 8
9 – Bo Bendsneyder – NED – Pertamina SAG – 7
10 – Jorge Navarro – SPA – MB Conveyors Speed Up – 6
11 – Cameron Beaubier – USA – American Racing – 5

12 – Celestino Vietti – ITA – Sky Racing Team VR46 – 4
13 – Aron Canet – SPA – Inde Aspar Team – 3
14 – Augusto Fernandez – SPA – Elf Marc VDS Racing – 2
15 – Thomas Luthi – SUI – Pertamina SAG – 1

Red Bull top of table after Race 1 in Moto3, Qatar

Jaume Masia won an exciting race to start the 2021 season, winning in Qatar ahead of his Red Bull teammate Pedro Acosta. The pair had spent the majority of the race near the front of the leading pack and took first and second at the start of the last lap. For Masia it was his fourth win in Moto3 and he has now won three of his last six races after he won both rounds at Aragon last year.

Jaume Masia Winner of the 2021 Moto3 Grand Prix of Qatar. Pedro Acosta second. Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

Rookie Acosta qualified eleventh but worked his way forward early on to work well with his teammate, especially when trying to break away from Darryn Binder who finished third. The sixteen-year-old Spaniard proved he is one of the rookies to look out for this season with a confident ride. Another rookie worth noting for the right reasons is Izan Guevara who qualified on the front row for the new Gas Gas team and finished seventh in the race.

One rookie with a race to forget was Xavier Artegas after he took out three riders as well as himself on the second lap with a move which could be described as optimistic or adventurous at best, or likely in less polite terms by the riders he retired. Coming into the heavy-braking left hand corner he tried to go up the inside but had too much speed and too little grip to make it work. His move took out Jeremy Alcoba, Andrea Mignoe and one of the pre-race favourites John McPhee. The Brit had qualified on the front row with his new teammate Binder on pole position.

Binder had a solid race from the front row, riding in his usual aggressive style with late-braking passes and was in the top three for many of the eighteen laps. In the end though he could not catch the breakaway from the Red Bull riders on the last lap and settled for his fifth career podium.

The entire race was a typical Moto3 affair with places changing every lap and plenty of riders going three or four wide into turn one. In the penultimate lap though there was one fantastic rear-facing onboard shot showing the riders going six-wide into one right hand turn and all coming out unscathed. It was a perfect example of the combination of skill and madness required to race at this level.

Guevara’s teammate Sergio Garcia had a solid race on the Gas Gas, running in the leading pack throughout and staying out of trouble. He just did not have enough at the end to reach he podium. It was very similar for Argentine rider Gabriel Rodrigo although at one point it did look like his chance of a high finish had gone when he clipped Masia’s rear wheel and ran wide. The 24-year-old pulled himself back up from outside the top ten to finish fifth in the end.

Jaume Masia Winner of the 2021 Moto3 Grand Prix of Qatar. Pedro Acosta second and Darryn Binder third. Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM1

Nico Antonelli qualified tenth and was largely unnoticed in the early stages of the race but in the final third he worked his way through to the front and led shortly before the final lap. He dropped back to sixth by the chequered flag.  His 2020 teammate Tastsuki Suzuki finished eighth with Gueveara between them. The Japanese rider started dead last after failing to set a qualifying time in Q1 so a top ten finish was a great result.

2019 winner Kaito Toba finished tenth ahead of Jason Dupasquier who took his first points finish. Romano Fenati made his name here in 2012 on his debut with second place but struggled around to eleventh ahead of Carlos Tatay.

TOP FIFTEEN RIDERS

1 – Jaume Masia – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 25 points
2 – Pedro Acosta – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 20
3 – Darryn Binder – RSA – Petronas Sprinta Honda – 16
4 – Sergio Garcia – SPA – Aspar Gas Gas – 13
5 – Gabriel Rodrigo – ARG – Indonesian Gresini Honda – 11
6 – Nico Antonelli – ITA – Avintia KTM – 10
7 – Izan Guevara – SPA – Aspar Gas Gas – 9
8 – Tatsuki Suzuki – JAP – SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda – 8
9 – Kaito Toba – JAP – CIP Green Power KTM – 7
10 – Jason Dupasquier – SUI – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 6
11 – Romano Fenati – ITA -Max Racing Husqvarna – 5

12 – Carlos Tatay – SPA – Avintia KTM – 4
13 – Filip Salac -CZE – Rivacold Snipers Honda – 3
14 – Ryusei Yamanaka – JAP – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 2
15 – Max Kofler – AUT – CIP Green Power KTM – 1