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.

Montréal ePrix: muted teams’ triumph for Renault as di Grassi snatches title

Renault e.Dams claimed their third straight Formula E teams’ title at Montréal’s season finale, but their celebrations were overshadowed by Lucas di Grassi’s triumph over Sébastien Buemi in the Drivers’ Championship.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Going into the Canadian title decider, it was looking almost impossible for anyone but Buemi to take the top honours this season. The Swiss driver had been a man transformed by his first title win last season—opening up his defence with a hat-trick of wins, Buemi went on to claim victory in almost every race he contested, and such was his form that he still held the championship lead before Montréal despite missing the two previous races in New York City.

But on arrival in Canada, Buemi seemed like a different driver altogether to the one in control of his last ePrix in Berlin. An uncharacteristic off in practice saw him damage his chassis against the wall, denting his confidence ahead of qualifying and handing him a hefty grid penalty for race one; then, starting the race from twelfth, Buemi’s cautious approach left him right in the heart of the opening lap scrum, where he picked up steering damage from contact with Robin Frijns’ Andretti, which severely hampered his progress early on.

By contrast, di Grassi was having every bit the race he needed. His third pole of the season narrowed the championship deficit to just seven points, and after seeing off Jean-Éric Vergne at the start the Brazilian raced away into an early lead. He was then largely not seen again, and despite a late safety car bringing Vergne right onto his tail in the final laps, di Grassi took his second win of the season ahead of Vergne and Stéphane Sarrazin, and with it the lead of the championship by six points—this lead later became eighteen points, when Buemi was disqualified from his eventual fourth-place finish after his rebuilt car was found to be three kilograms underweight.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

This stacked the odds considerably in di Grassi’s favour ahead of the second and final race of the weekend. All the Abt driver needed to do to clinch the title was finish ahead of Buemi, and even if his rival went on to win the race, any result within the top four would have given di Grassi enough points to become champion.

Nevertheless, Sunday did not start smoothly for di Grassi. A scruffy Super Pole lap left him only fifth on the grid behind Felix Rosenqvist, Sam Bird, Jean-Éric Vergne and Nick Heidfeld; di Grassi then dropped back at the start and was almost tagged by his teammate going through the first corner.

But compared to his title rival, di Grassi’s troubles were nothing. For the second time in Montréal Buemi started way down the grid, in thirteenth place after making a mistake on his flying qualifying lap. That once again placed him in the firing line at the first corner, and as the pack bunched up he was hit from behind in the braking zone, this time by António Félix da Costa in the sister Andretti. The contact was enough to dislodge one of Buemi’s rear wheel guards, and as it flapped loose from the back of his Renault the stewards called him in to the pits with a black and orange flag—by the time he rejoined the track, Buemi was in last place and his title hopes lay in tatters.

Sam Bagnall/LAT/Formula E

Meanwhile, as Buemi’s impromptu stop all but sealed the title for di Grassi, the front of the field was playing host to a tight race for the win between polesitter Rosenqvist and a charging Vergne.

The Frenchman had been able to eat into Rosenqvist’s five-second lead after saving the energy for a later stop, and partway through the second stint had no trouble breezing past the Mahindra for the lead. Vergne then set about using the remainder of his saved energy to ease clear of Rosenqvist—by the time the chequered flag fell at the end of lap 37, Vergne had built up a buffer of almost a second to seal his and the Techeetah team’s first Formula E victory.

Rosenqvist followed Vergne home in second, despite coming under further pressure from José María López in the closing laps, and with his fifth podium of the season triumphed in his battle with Sam Bird for third in the final standings; Bird himself crossed the line fourth ahead of Rosenqvist’s teammate Nick Heidfeld, who had fallen back from an earlier podium position.

Incoming champion di Grassi had been set to finish sixth, but with his title already secured he swapped places with teammate Daniel Abt on the final lap and finished seventh instead. Stéphane Sarrazin came eighth, Jérôme d’Ambrosio closed a difficult season for Dragon with two points in ninth, and Tom Dillmann took the fourth points finish of his rookie season with tenth. The final fastest lap of the season was set by Nico Prost, who finished outside the top ten for the first time this season and fell to sixth in the overall standings.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Renault e.Dams’ three non-scoring results in Montréal allowed Abt Schaeffler Audi to close up in the teams’ standings, though in the end the French marque still had twenty points in hand to take its third consecutive crown.

Mahindra finished its best Formula E season to date by beating DS Virgin to third, and in spite of numerous driver changes across the season Techeetah ended its impressive debut campaign as the fifth-fastest team ahead of NextEV NIO.

There were no changes in position with the final four teams—Andretti, Dragon, Venturi and Jaguar—even though each team scored at least one top ten finish this weekend. The latter two are unlikely to be disheartened by coming ninth and tenth, considering both have shown great improvement from starting the season well out of contention for the points; as for Andretti and Dragon, teams used to scoring podiums in past seasons, finishing down in the latter half of the table will leave much for the two American outfits to consider over the off-season.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Formula E: 2017 Montreal ePrix Preview

The end of the 2016–17 Formula E season is upon us. In a few days time, the chequered flag will fall at the second round of the Montréal ePrix, and the champion of season three will be crowned.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers in contention for the title going into Montréal—Sébastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi, Felix Rosenqvist, and Sam Bird. But as anyone who has followed this season will know, it would take something truly special to see three of those four drivers come out on top come Sunday.

Bird, who was propelled into the top four by his double victory in New York, would need to score every available point this weekend—both wins, both poles and both fastest laps—with Buemi scoring none at all if he has any hopes of taking the season three title. Nor does Rosenqvist have much more margin for error, sitting just four points ahead of Bird and 53 behind Buemi; in fact, this pair will be more concerned by Nico Prost, who at twenty points behind them will be a major threat for third overall.

Di Grassi has the best chance of sneaking through to the title, having both arguably the second-fastest car on the grid and only a ten-point deficit to overcome. However, that gap will likely feel more like a gulf psychologically, considering the opportunity he missed in Buemi’s absence to take the lead of the championship in New York. There is still time for di Grassi to turn things around, but it would take a level of performance the Brazilian has frankly yet to show this season.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

In the teams’ championship, the top spot is unsurprisingly safe in the hands of Renault e.Dams. ABT Schaeffler Audi, however, will have their hands full fending off Mahindra for second place in what has been by far the Indian team’s best season yet; with just twelve points separating the two squads, another podium for Rosenqvist or Nick Heidfeld could be enough to lift Mahindra to an outstanding best-of-the-rest come Sunday evening.

DS Virgin could move up to take third, providing Bird or José María López can build on the team’s dominant New York performance and recover the 29 points by which they trail Mahindra. The series’ two Chinese teams, Techeetah and NextEV, look set to finish fifth and sixth respectively—an impressive result considering the former is in its debut season and the latter finished last year in last place.

Behind them, the US outfits Andretti and Dragon Racing are locked on thirty points apiece and will both be desperate to break that tie. António Félix da Costa will be especially hungry for points, having yet to score since the season opener in Hong Kong whilst his teammate Robin Frijns sits in twelfth with double the Portuguese driver’s points total.

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

But as well as each other, Andretti and Dragon will need to keep their eyes on Venturi and Jaguar, who lurk just two and nine points behind respectively. For Jaguar, the opportunity to finish their first season in Formula E as high as seventh will be a major inspiration for the team, and in particular for Mitch Evans, who has acclimatised to the series quickly in his rookie season and scored the lion’s share of his team’s points.

Jaguar will no doubt need Evans, and Adam Carroll too, to have a strong weekend in Canada if they are to finish above Venturi at the very least. Like Jaguar, the Monegasque team enjoys its own pairing of points-capable rookies in Maro Engel and Tom Dillmann, and Engel especially will be someone of whom the lower midfield teams will be very wary: pumped up from his maiden DTM win in Moscow last weekend, the German should have all the necessary momentum to hunt down those few points his team needs to beat Andretti and Dragon.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Although the sharp end of the two championships looks to be a foregone conclusion in Buemi’s and Renault’s favour, 2017’s inaugural Montréal ePrix still has plenty of room to spring a few surprises. Stay tuned to ThePitCrewOnline for all the action and updates across the weekend.

Preview: 2017 New York ePrix

July is now upon us, and with it the penultimate and most hotly-anticipated stop on the 2017–18 Formula E calendar—New York City.

It’s a shame, really, that given New York’s billing as this season’s headline event (sorry, Montréal), the championship leader Sébastien Buemi will not be present at either race this weekend. His Toyota WEC priorities have hardly come as a surprise, and in his place Formula E will get to welcome another exciting young talent in the form of Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly, but for one of the sport’s box office stars to miss an event like New York is still regrettable.

But on a more positive note, the impact of Formula E’s clash with the WEC’s 6 Hours of the Nürburgring has proven to be much less than first expected. Of the half-dozen drivers previously at risk of skipping the New York round, only Buemi and his Toyota LMP1 teammate José María López will in fact leave vacant seats—meaning Gasly and DS Virgin reserve Alex Lynn will be the only new faces on the grid this weekend. Sam Bird, Nelson Piquet, Nico Prost and Jean-Éric Vergne have all opted to forego the fourth round of the WEC and contest New York instead.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

The other upside to Buemi’s absence is that it naturally opens the way for a fresh change to the podium predictions. Lucas di Grassi will obviously be among the favourites to capitalise on his title rival’s double booking, and a pair of strong top three results would even see him assume the lead of the championship before the final round in Canada.

But if the previous round in Berlin is anything to go by, di Grassi will more than have his hands full keeping back the rapid Mahindra pair of Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld, the former of whom scored his and the team’s first victory last time out and will surely be eager for more of the same. Vergne also ought to pose a major threat at the front in New York with his Renault-powered Techeetah, as will his former DS Virgin teammate Bird, and nor can Prost be discounted; although the Renault driver has yet to finish on the podium this season, Prost is the only man to have scored in every round so far and is a proven ePrix winner.

Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

The presence of two rookies at Renault and DS Virgin may also present an opportunity for some of the midfield teams to take a larger bite at the top ten than usual this weekend.

Such an opening will be especially attractive to Dragon Racing, currently languishing at the bottom of the standings and looking for a first points finish since Buenos Aires. But with only a handful of points splitting Dragon from Jaguar, Venturi and Andretti ahead of them, it will be a close fight between their respective drivers to see who comes out on top.

Jaguar and Venturi would seem to have the current edge in that regard, with Mitch Evans and Maro Engel contributing heavily to their teams’ rising points totals of late. But Andretti’s pairing of da Costa and Frijns is capable of brilliance on the right day, such as their fifth- and sixth-placed finishes in Hong Kong, and Dragon’s two-time ePrix winner Jérôme d’Ambrosio is no slouch either.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E