Motorsport.com exclusive: Lucas di Grassi talks Formula E

Series points leader is ready to take on Miami.

Motorsport.com exclusive: Lucas di Grassi talks Formula E
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Formula E Team
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Abt Formula E Team
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
Podium: race winner Lucas di Grassi, second place Franck Montagny, third place Sam Bird
Race winner Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT

It’s no surprise that Brazilian race driver Lucas di Grassi enjoys his day job – he’s a factory driver for the dominant Audi FIA World Endurance Championship team, replacing the retired Allan McNish – but it may be little surprising how much he enjoys his second racing career, as pilot of the Spark-Renault SRT 01E for Audi Sport ABT in Formula E.

Di Grassi, of course, etched his name in the history books with his victory in the very first race for the series, in Bejing. And going into this weekend’s race in Miami, di Grassi is the points leader, 10 points ahead of second-place Sam Bird, and 17 ahead of Sebastien Buemi, in third.

So what does he like about Formula E? “It’s quite an interesting series,” di Grassi says. “The car is not the best car I have ever driven – no comparison to the LMP car I drive for Audi. But the series is very competitive. There’s a very good driver lineup. And the event is compressed into one day, all the tracks are brand new. So no one really has an advantage.”

Di Grassi, 30, came up the traditional Brazilian way: Karting, then Formula Renault, Formula Three, then GP2, before landing a ride in Formula One with Virgin, and as an official test driver for Pirelli. He began racing for Audi in 2012, and seems to have found a home in the e-tron quattro. But he is just as enthusiastic about his Formula E car.

“The series is just in its first year,” he says. “I believed in the series from the beginning. The TV numbers have been quite good, and we’ve had good crowds, one of the best for a new series. I believe the cars will evolve very quickly, become faster and faster. Not only as technology evolves, but as the teams evolve.”

'Really impressive torque'

As for the Spark-Renault, “The car feels like any other car. It takes just a few laps to get used to it. Really impressive torque, acceleration is very good -- feels like it has 600 horsepower. But as speed builds you realize it doesn’t, that’s how an electric motor works.” Off the line, though, “It feels like a Formula One car.”

The other unfamiliar factor is the brakes, with the regenerative aspect. It means the brakes don’t always feel exactly the same from one corner to the next.

He is a fan of the tall, hard Michelin tires, because that’s what the car, and the series, needs. “The grip level very low. But that was the correct decision -- make too much grip with low power, and the car is too easy to drive. I completely agree with Michelin’s decision for tire choice. The tire has to match the technology,” and since sustainability is a central message, “tires that you can run for the whole race avoids unnecessary pit stops.”

Indeed, “I completely believe in the message the series is sending. I might not completely agree with the message that you have to switch cars in the middle of the race -- I would prefer to have a shorter race like rallycross and possibly have more races in the same day. But eventually it will be good to be able to go from two cars to one, to be able to say, ‘Look, technology has evolved this much, and now we have one car that can do the same job it took two cars to do five years ago.’ That’s a good message that will be eventually displayed.”

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