Formula E-Brief: Shoreline redemption for Di Grassi at Long Beach

Discussion in 'Motorsports' started by R.J. O'Connell, Apr 5, 2016.

  1. R.J. O'Connell

    R.J. O'Connell

    Rumours of the demise of Lucas di Grassi's championship challenge have been greatly exaggerated. Three weeks after being disqualified from victory at Mexico City, the Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler driver responded with a flawless drive to win the Long Beach ePrix - as championship rival Sebastien Buemi's race crumbled in a sea of red mist. And this time, it counted.

    The day began under beautiful skies at Formula E's lone trek to the United States, at a truncated version of the legendary Long Beach Street Circuit. Qualifying saw a monumental upset as Antonio Felix da Costa, driving a Team Aguri machine with the outdated "Season One" Spark powertrain, took pole position. That was, until his tyre pressures were found to be too low, and his pole position was stripped. That promoted DS Virgin driver Sam Bird to the pole position, and Di Grassi to the front row alongside Bird.

    The race started with Bird, Di Grassi, and third-placed Stephane Sarrazin running nose-to-tail. Behind them, Buemi had moved up to fifth place, chasing down rookie sensation Robin Frijns and setting blistering laps early in the race. It seemed as if, just as he did in Buenos Aires, the Swiss Superman was going to be on the fast track to the front of the field in just a matter of time.

    But in his haste to get past the tricky Dutchman, Buemi went for an overzealous lunge at the hairpin - and collided with the back of Frijns' Amlin Andretti car. Both drivers suffered heavy damage, they were both forced to switch cars early, and both drivers' races were ruined. Seeing two of the most exciting drivers on the track get taken out in such a clumsy manner was a bit like seeing being a parent and seeing your two children fight each other.

    In the end, Frijns' consecutive scoring streak to open his Formula E career ends at five races. And for Buemi, who at times seemed so invincible in his two victories this season and in his drive from last to second at Buenos Aires, two measly points for setting the fastest lap of the race were all he could salvage as the former World Endurance Drivers' Champion completely came unraveled in one brief moment.

    Polesitter Bird conceded the lead to Di Grassi on lap 12, but was keen to take the fight back to the Brazilian after the mid-race pit stops. That was, until lap 23, when Bird simply locked 'em up and nosed gently into the tyre barrier at turn five. Bird kept going, but instead of chasing Di Grassi for the win as he'd hoped, he'd spend the rest of the race trying to get around fellow Brazilian, Bruno Senna, just to get into the top five.

    To compound the woes for Renault e.Dams after Buemi's incident with Frijns, Nicolas Prost was also nailed for a pit road infraction, costing the Frenchman a top-five finish that could have at least salvaged a top-ten result for the French team that, in the early rounds, looked utterly invincible, but now looks to be withering under the pressure.

    For defending Long Beach winner and Formula E champ Nelson Piquet, Jr., this was to be another race to forget in a truly miserable championship defense. Nelsiñho had been running outside the points all day, ending his race with a trip into the concrete barriers exiting the first chicane. As NEXTEV TCR's chances of success in the 2015-16 season have sunk, so too has the defending champion's spirit. Piquet's crash brought out a late safety car, which certainly evoked no comparisons to any previous incidents where he may have crashed out on his own on a street circuit. None whatsoever.

    Da Costa, who'd done a sterling job to get way up from 18th to 8th and was on track for a points-paying finish after the disappointment of his post-qualifying penalty, suddenly pitted his Gulf-coloured Aguri machine and retired with less than ten laps to go, just to cap off the disappointments on the day at Long Beach. If Da Costa had an account at the proverbial "luck bank", it was overdrawn months ago.

    But out of all the things that went wrong for many drivers, Di Grassi drove an utterly flawless race. When the safety car was withdrawn, he resisted a late charge from second-placed Sarrazin to officially and decisively take his second win of the 2015-16 Formula E season - his third career Formula E race win. And with no post-race infractions to steal the thunder away, Di Grassi not only kept the victory, but the twenty-five points that come with it - giving him the championship lead by just a single point over Buemi. So much for a spoiled championship battle.

    "It was a fantastic race. We had the pace, we proved that Mexico was just a mistake, and we're back in the fight," said an elated Di Grassi after the race.

    Completing the podium, the multi-versatile Sarrazin took his very first Formula E podium with his second place finish for Venturi, who scored just their second podium finish in team history - and with none other than Academy Award-winning team partner Leonardo DiCaprio in attendance, too!

    Daniel Abt had arguably the best race of his Formula E career - he drove solid all day while others ahead of him faltered to finish third, picking up his second career podium finish - his first since the Miami ePrix of last year.

    Mahindra Racing had their best race in Formula E, with Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna finishing fourth and fifth respectively. Quick Nick's result is the best since returning from his hand injury that sidelined him in Punta del Este, while Senna won the lengthy battle with Bird to equal his best result of the season.

    But in ninth place, a landmark moment in Formula E history was made. Amlin Andretti driver Simona de Silvestro became the first woman to break through and score championship points in the series. The former Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year had been close to a points finish for several races, and drove a smart race and conserved energy to perfection to finish behind the Dragon Racing cars of Jerome d'Ambrosio and Loic Duval, and ahead of fellow first-time scorer Mike Conway for Venturi - himself a two-time IndyCar winner at Long Beach.

    “I’m pretty happy to get my first points in Formula E,” said de Silvestro after the race. “We’ve been so close so many times and we’ve never got them. So it’s a great step forward."

    It's a small, yet so important triumph for De Silvestro that could, hopefully, be the start of something very positive not just for Formula E, as it continues to grow and cement its place in the racing map, but for all of motorsport, and for every single woman who has ever aspired to compete at the highest levels of racing.

    The 2015-16 season is now more than half-way over, with four rounds in Europe to end the season - starting in three weeks' time with the inaugural Paris ePrix. And already, the season has seen its share of dramatic moments, top-caliber performances from drivers up and down the grid, while away from the on-track action, the series has a blueprint for legitimate growth and success going forward.

    It now looks to be a full-tilt championship battle between two teams supported by giants of the automotive and racing industy, Audi and Renault; and their two drivers, Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi - who left F1 almost entirely unheralded a handful of years ago, re-emerged in top-level endurance racing and Formula E, and now, years later, have been legitimately re-invented as elite racing drivers with the proper opportunity to showcase their abilities.

    Official Results
    1st: Lucas di Grassi [BRA] - Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport - 45:11.582s

    2nd: Stephane Sarrazin [FRA] - Venturi Grand Prix - +0.787s
    3rd: Daniel Abt [GER] - Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport - +1.685s
    4th: Nick Heidfeld [GER] - Mahindra Racing - +2.343s
    5th: Bruno Senna [BRA] - Mahindra Racing - +4.968s
    6th: Sam Bird [GBR] - DS Virgin Racing - +5.229s [PP]
    7th: Jerome D’Ambrosio [BEL] - Dragon Racing - +6.735s
    8th: Loic Duval [FRA] - Dragon Racing - +8.057s
    9th: Simona de Silvestro [SUI] - Amlin Andretti - +10.505s
    10th: Mike Conway [GBR] - Venturi Grand Prix- +10.900s
    11th: Nicolas Prost [FRA] - Renault e.dams - +11.205s
    12th: Oliver Turvey [GBR] - NEXTEV TCR - +17.417s
    13th: Jean-Eric Vergne [FRA] DS Virgin Racing - +1 lap
    14th: Salvador Duran [MEX] - Team Aguri - +1 lap
    15th: Robin Frijns [NED] - Amlin Andretti - +1 lap
    16th: Sebastien Buemi [SUI] - Renault e.dams - +3 laps [FL]

    Not Classified
    Antonio Felix da Costa [POR] - Team Aguri - 33 laps
    Nelson Piquet, Jr. [BRA] - NEXTEV TCR - 32 laps

    Images courtesy of Sarah Connors and Elizabeth Werth
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  2. Philip Heck

    Philip Heck

    Great strategy from the Mahindra team to get their drivers up to 4th and 5th! :)
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