Le Mans LMP1: Alonso adds to Triple Crown bid with #8 Toyota win

Toyota broke its 24 Hours of Le Mans curse with an emotional 1–2 finish led home by the #8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso.

#8 and #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrids / Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Japanese marque was the overwhelming favourite coming into the 86th running of Le Mans, and aggressive opening stints from both Buemi and the #7 car’s Mike Conway soon put the two TS050 Hybrids well ahead of the privateer LMP1 entries battling for third.

The #7 gained the advantage late on Saturday when Buemi earned the #8 car a 60-second stop-go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. But a pair of rapid nighttime recovery drives by first Alonso and then Nakajima saw the #7’s lead disappear. Nakajima then completed the #8’s comeback in the 16th hour by snatching first place from Kamui Kobayashi on the inside of Arnage.

The #8 went on to hold the lead for the remaining eight hours, while the #7 dropped back after a series of late difficulties that included Jose Maria Lopez spinning at the Dunlop chicane and Kobayashi missing a pit stop and needing to take an extra lap at full course yellow speed to save fuel.

In the end Nakajima brought the #8 Toyota across the line with two laps in hand over Kobayashi in the sister car, which was a further ten laps clear of the #3 Rebellion in third. The win was Toyota’s first at Le Mans after 19 attempts and the first by a Japanese manufacturer since Mazda in 1991. Nakajima meanwhile became the first Japanese driver to win since Seiji Ara did so with Audi in 2004.

#3 Rebellion Racing R13 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Behind the Toyotas, Rebellion and SMP Racing immediately established themselves as the chief contenders for best-of-the-rest.

After Andre Lotterer lost the nose of his #1 Rebellion in a first lap collision, it was Thomas Laurent in the sister #3 who took charge of the Swiss team’s race by pressuring the #17 SMP of Stephane Sarrazin for third.

The two Frenchmen and their subsequent replacements swapped third and fourth position several times in the opening hours of the race, although the battle was eventually ended early and in Rebellion’s favour when Matevos Isaakyan spun the #17 into the barriers at the Porsche Curves shortly after midnight.

Isaakyan’s crash came not long after Dominik Kraihamer spun the #4 ByKolles out of the race at the same part of the track. The #10 Dragonspeed was another casualty of the Porsche Curves with Ben Hanley finding the barriers in hour 17, while the Manor-run #6 CEFC Ginetta and the #11 SMP were both waylaid by mechanical troubles to make it five LMP1 retirements by the end of the race.

That left the #1 Rebellion—which recovered from its opening lap crash and several late penalties to take fourth—and the #5 CEFC Ginetta, as the only surviving LMP1 cars outside of the podium.

#6 CEFC Ginetta G60-LT-P1 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Zurich ePrix: Di Grassi wins as penalties shrink Vergne’s title lead

Lucas di Grassi ended his season four win drought by rising from fifth to first in Sunday’s Zurich ePrix, while title challenger Sam Bird finished second to slash Jean-Éric Vergne’s championship lead by almost half.

Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

The race began in mixed-up fashion, with Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer starting well from second to threaten maiden polesitter Mitch Evans off the line. But although Evans managed to defend from Lotterer and drop him back into pressure from third-placed Bird, the Jaguar driver was unable to pull clear of the cars behind as he struggled with rising battery temperatures.

This brought di Grassi right onto the back of the podium pack, once the Audi driver dispatched with Jérôme d’Ambrosio for fourth place. By lap 13 di Grassi had passed Bird at the hairpin—taking advantage of the Briton’s battle with Lotterer ahead to close in on the pair—and three laps later did what Bird was unable to and took second from Lotterer.

With Evans’ battery issues continuing out in front, di Grassi was quickly onto the gearbox of the Jaguar—and on lap 18 the outgoing champion made his move on the run to Turn 1, and breezed past into first place.

Once in the lead di Grassi continued to build a gap to those behind him, and at the end of lap 39 crossed the finish line 7.5s ahead to take his first and Audi’s third win of the 2017–18 season.

Jean-Éric Vergne, Techeetah / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

But while last season’s champion enjoyed his best Formula E weekend since last year’s Montreal finale, current championship leader Vergne suffered huge losses at the Zurich ePrix.

Coming into the weekend with a mathematical chance of clinching the title, Vergne qualified near the back of the grid in 17th while his only remaining rival Bird was set to start from the second row.

Vergne made good progress in the early stages and before the halfway stage had already got his Techeetah up into the lower points. But on lap 17 Vergne came together with Felix Rosenqvist while taking eighth, sending the Mahindra driver into the wall at Turn 1 and triggering a full course yellow to remove the debris.

Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

This proved to be the defining moment of the race, as shortly after the halfway pitstops it was announced that Vergne—along with Lotterer, Evans and Sébastien Buemi—had been given a drive-through penalty for speeding under the full course yellow.

These penalties drastically altered the order. With fewer than ten laps remaining, Lotterer, Evans and Buemi dropped from second, third and fourth respectively, while Vergne was once more put outside the points after his trip through the pitlane.

Worse still for Vergne, the penalties for those in front meant that Bird was elevated to second place, where the DS Virgin driver finished to add another 18 points to his championship challenge.

Jérôme d’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

D’Ambrosio completed the podium in third, his and Dragon’s first podium since the 2016 London ePrix, while Lotterer held on for fourth.

Buemi recovered from his penalty to take fifth, one place higher than he started, after using his FanBoost to pass Evans in the closing stages—Evans lost a further place to Nick Heidfeld before the end, and finished behind the German in seventh. António Félix da Costa and Oliver Turvey were promoted into the lower points by the penalties ahead and a retirement for Nico Prost, and finished eighth and ninth respectively.

Meanwhile, Vergne fought his way back into tenth place to take the final point of the day. The Frenchman had been set to add another point with the fastest lap, until his Techeetah teammate Lotterer take that honour away in the final stages.

Vergne’s low finish and Bird’s podium mean the gap at the top of the standings is now down from 40 to 23 points with only the double header in New York—which Bird dominated last season—left to go.

Driver Debrief: André Lotterer

Techeetah rookie André Lotterer is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead in Formula E. We caught up with him to discuss Techeetah’s prospects and how he felt about the testing so far.

Lotterer, a seasoned WEC and Super Formula driver, was initially sceptical about Formula E but he admits that his opinions have changed towards the sport.

“I think a lot of people were sceptical about it because nobody was used to it. It’s just that my voice was probably picked out more strongly than others due to my status.”  Lotterer reveals. “But then obviously you’re allowed to change your mind and it’s something that everybody needed to get used to. “

“Due to my situation in WEC, racing for Porsche and Audi, I was super happy with where I was but things changed and I began to get more interested. In the end, It doesn’t matter what car you race, you have to be the best at it and there’s a lot of top drivers here. There’s a world championship and it’s challenging so it’s the place to be be now. That finally attracted me and it’s going in the right direction with the new season’s car.”

Lotterer said that he was ‘always curious’ about the sport, helped by his regular contact with ex-Audi teammate and current Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi.

”Indirectly [he brought me into the sport]. We talk about it and I was always curious how it is.”

”At the beginning, I didn’t really consider [Formula E] but motorsport is changing and we are racing for the future. This is what you want as a new driver – a new challenge. This was this case for me with everything that is changing in the world right now.”

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Tuesday 3 October 2017.
Andre Lotterer (GER), TECHEETAH, Renault Z.E. 17
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _J6I9436

Lotterer has already completed two days of testing with Techeetah and is making use of the limited test opportunities that the team, as a Renault customer, have at hand. For the experienced driver, the test provides more of a learning curve as he admitted that the car has been a challenge to get to grips with.

”It’s very different [to drive],” Lotterer explains, “It’s completely different to anything I’ve done before, not only because of the electric engine but mostly because of the tyres and the nature of the car with the battery and the weight.”

Here, the speeds are lower but the car is more challenging to drive because it has less potential in terms of grip with the tyres. The braking is a very random factor due to the regeneration on the rear axle and the carbon brakes have a specific way of working in different temperature ranges so it is a lot of guessing on the brakes but the driving part itself is quite fun.”

Although positive about the season ahead, Lotterer was realistic in terms of what he can achieve in these early stages.

”First of all, I need to play catch up. It is not an easy task to join the championship with only three days of testing. I was for the first time in the car two days ago, so that’s the way it is as a private team when you’re not a manufacturer. At the beginning there’s a learning curve, for sure, but this is what we have to accept and something I need to catch up as fast as possible.

We always push to do the best and achieve but at the beginning, I am going to find out where I am. Here, it is a bit difficult to judge. Thing is, here is not that representative in terms of the circuit. The same guys are at the front that were competing in the championship, so being in the middle of it for the first step is not too bad. I really go race by race, give everything and do my best but I know I am going to have to face some learning time in the beginning.

But I have to say the team is a very good team, packed with a lot of brain cells. The guys in the systems side are very smart. We are only one of the teams that cannot go testing so considering that, sometimes [Techeetah] beating the Renault team is quite impressive.”

2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship.
Official Test – Valencia, Spain
Monday 2 October 2017.
Andre Lotterer (GER), TECHEETAH, Renault Z.E. 17
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Competing alongside seasoned driver Jean-Éric Vergne, Lotterer was very optimistic about what he could learn from the French driver.

“It’s really good to have him [Jev] . Obviously, he’s a really good reference now after winning the race in Montréal so this is good for me to be able to learn from him and he’s a good team player. He wants to have a good global performance of the team and he’s been helping me out with getting up to speed and sharing his information which is not something you can take for granted from teammates in general.”

 With Porsche’s arrival into Formula E in Season 6, it seems reasonable that they would want to take on a presumably more experienced Lotterer into their new team, but Lotterer argued that it was not the case, stating that Techeetah was his long term prospect.

“No,  of course [this is not a short term prospect]. My aim is to come and find a good situation. As a professional race car driver, you want to optimise everything – my performance, the team’s performance, everything. This doesn’t go from one day to the other so it’s going to take some time but hopefully in the long run, it will pay off. “