Road to Vegas Berlin round-up and NEXTEV NIO EP9 launch

Saturday through to Monday was a pretty hectic period for me…

First off, there was the penultimate round of Road to Vegas in Berlin to commentate on. Joining me was my good friend Jack Pickering. I thought things would be a little awkward because I hadn’t heard his voice since he was controversially banned from Formula E Addicts a while back. But I needn’t have worried; our relationship was much the same and he did a very good job adding some excitement which I’d not always gotten across as well I could have last time out in Paris for example. We were helped in the final by Dom Duhan who is effectively the eSports consultant for Formula E and also Team Principle of Team Redline, who were looking to qualify two of their top Finish drivers. My regular co-commentator Alie Tacq should be back for London, but there is also a competition being held the same day as the London final by Let’s Race, (The prize is a trip to see the Grand final in Vegas) so I’ll have to see if I’m still in the top 10 for that at the end of the month.

The semi-final winners in Berlin were Graham Carroll, Enzo Bonito, Olli Pahkala and David Greco. Unfortunately for Enzo, despite winning a semi-final for the first time on Saturday his luck would desert him right before the start on Sunday when his game crashed during the server switchover from warmup to the race. With no time/precedent in the rules for a restart, the field set off with a very noticeable gap in 4th place where Enzo was expected to materialise, but sadly was prevented from doing so. Pahkala had an extremely strong semi-final, beating teammate and championship leader Greger Huttu by 10 seconds, so he started on pole from Carroll, Greco and Huttu himself. Further back, Aleksi Ussi was unfortunate to cop a speeding penalty whilst leading Carroll in his semi-final; he still qualified but would start from 17th.

The big drama at the start of the race was caused in the midfield by Nikodem Wisniewski, who lost his front wing making contact with Marc Gassner twice, causing Gassner to go wide at the first turn and creating an hefty pile-up behind him: Petar Brljack lost both front and rear wings after being squeezed into the wall and Wyatt Gooden collected him; Wisniewski was awarded a drive-through penalty as punishment for catalysing the mayhem, but all were able to continue even if Brljack was a sitting duck for much of the first stint. Jesus Sicillia looked to take advantage of Brljack’s misfortune, but the Spaniard instead went too far over the curbing at turn 9 and flipped spectacularly before being righted by the wall. Incredibly he was able to continue but his pace wasn’t the same after.

Through all this, the only order change at the top was that Bono Huis had managed to pass Greger Huttu for 4th place; Huttu was not fighting Bono too hard knowing he did not need a top 4 finish to qualify for Vegas. Ussi had shown great speed to climb up the order, quickly taking care of Brljack after Sicilia’s acrobatics but then getting stuck behind an oversteering Luis Dalmau, who drifted around for several laps holding Ussi up until Dalmau made a fatal error hitting the inside at the chicane, flying up in the air and landing on top of Ussi’s car. Luckily Ussi did not take damage and was able to continue, later taking advantage of an unplanned pitstop for Marc Gassner to get into the top 10.

Up front, Pahkala was building a huge lead, and Graham Carroll decided to pit at the end of lap 26 to try and undercut him. The big battle was between Huis and Greco, with the Dutchman trying to pass the Italian at turns 4 and 5 on the very next lap after Greco got a bad run through the chicane. Briefly, Huis was alongside and slightly ahead but had to back out as he was on the outside for turns 6 and 7, following which Greco pit to undercut him. Huttu pit last and came out just alongside Huis but opted not to make a risky move on his teammate.

A train of cars was building behind Greco from 3rd to 7th, and although no-one made a move in the closing stages Jakub Brzezinski did attempt to set the fastest lap using the pitlane as a run-up (A trick he attempted in qualifying for his semi-final and was penalised 2 places for) and yet again it proved fruitless as it was deleted for him exceeding track limits; mercifully he was allowed to keep his 7th place however.

The race was really all about Olli Pahkala, who dominated, growing his commanding lead to 20 seconds by the chequered flag to easily qualify for the Las Vegas Grand Final in January with the final qualifier in London still to go. Graham Carroll and Greger Huttu did the same finished 2nd and 5th respectively, with David Greco’s podium assuring him of a place too. Bono Huis, 4th in Berlin and 5th in the table still needs a top 8 result to be absolutely certain of making it through. Also impressing and bringing himself back into contention after misfortune in Paris was Muhammed Patel who took his best result yet in 6th. 7th was Brzezinski who is fighting to stay in the lower half of the top 10, 8th was local German driver Patrik Holzmann who is just behind Bono Huis in 6th overall. 9th was Daniel Kiss, who had to pull out all the stops to keep a charging Ussi behind him at the end, .

Below are the scores with each driver’s single worst result (from the 3 rounds so far) dropped. Think of it more as the projected standings rather than the defacto one. With a round to go, many drivers such as Brljack, Patel, Ussi, Bonito and Kiss need a good result in Battersea Park in just under 2 weeks time due to none-scores from earlier in the series which they have to drop. Thankfully this dropped score rule means they are still in the hunt and that their bad luck has not completely ruined their chances; only compromised them.

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Now for the NIO EP9 car launch, which took place the very next day. I had won competition to see the launch of this new car by posting this video:

The Launch was at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London, and NEXTEV even went to the trouble of booking a driver for me to get there. He arrived early which meant I turned up an hour early but that was no problem; a short trip to a local coffee shop more than passed the time; and I didn’t go there empty handed either…

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These driver caps were given to me as compensation for my driver arriving early; I didn’t even know that merited compensation! (But hey, I’m not complaining)

Anyway, I had decided to go with my friend Jack Giordmaina. Initially we weren’t sure what we were getting into as the EP9 had already been launched earlier in the day. It transpired that we were in the evening group; simply a space issue in the gallery meant we couldn’t all see it at the same time I guess. To the credit of Nicki Shields, William Li, and all the other hosts there they still put their all into their lines for the encore, and the fact that we weren’t the very first didn’t really detract from the experience in the end.

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Slightly dodgy ex-Tory Minister and current House of Lords member Greg Barker (Left) chats to NEXTEV Chairman William Li (Right)

We went through 4 gallery rooms before coming to the big reveal. In the first room we were offered fancy drinks and mini-tarts as we waited for everyone to arrive. At one point I spilt the last little bit of my drink because it had a fruit at the bottom, and I got greedy, tipped the drink up too much and got my come-uppance. Then we were taken into a room where Williams Li did an interview (In Chinese) with a former Conservative Minister of State for Climate Change called Lord Barker. Long time readers familiar with my controversial political views can easily imagine that the mere presence of this David Cameron supporting life-peer was enough to make me uneasy and naturally I felt deeply mistrustful of him and the party he represents, but thankfully I resisted the temptation to heckle him by asking how much he was being paid to be there, and after finishing his scripted and rehearsed questions (The only spontaneous moment was when Li stopped to point out that his wife was in attendance) he faded back into the background and I could continue to blissfully pretend he wasn’t even there. A car launch is definitely not a place for political theatre; so keep the politicians out of it I say. (Yes, even the ‘retired’ ones sitting in the House of Lords) Despite a choice of interviewer that I didn’t really approve of, Li came across okay and I thought that he genuinely wanted to improve air quality based on his bad experience with smog in Beijing.

The third room was about the new logo that NEXTEV had done for their NIO sub-brand. Pretty dry stuff but you could tell they’d worked really hard on it, and the videos they’d produced were well shot, tightly edited and informative. So that gets a thumbs up from me.

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NEXT EV’s FE car with it’s new livery for the rest of the season

The last room had a Formula E chassis with NEXTEV’s new livery adorning it. I thought it looked pretty solid and intricate. Maybe you can make up your own mind on that one though. As much as I liked the season 2/early season 3 liveries, it’s nice to see them trying something new and if they wanna show-off a new logo then that’s fine by me. Also in this room was a bunch of the team’s car parts as well as driver helmets, overalls, etc. Perhaps the most poignant item was this helmet though:

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Helmet created in tribute to the late Dr. Martin Leach, head of the company prior to his death earlier in the month and a central part of the FE team. From the presentation videos, it seems the EP9 was very much his baby, and it’s a real tragedy that he didn’t get to see the car launched.

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So we come to the big reveal, and I have to say, despite knowing beforehand what it would look like, it was still an awesome moment to see it there as a physical thing that you can reach out and touch…Not that I would dare plaster this thing of beauty with my mucky fingerprints of course, even when we were invited onto the stage for a closer look. The flashy videos again added a fair bit here, but there was some great substance and merit to the Paul Ricard/Nurburgring tests and EV lap records set. (Although I’m sure they’ll be broken in the years to come that doesn’t diminish the current achievements) As awesome as it looks I don’t think this is the kind of vehicle you can really leave in a Supermarket car-park on a shopping trip. Not that you’ll need to shop if you have the money for one of these…You could probably get your servants to handle that sort of thing.

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Gerry Hughes, Nelson Piquet Jnr. and Oliver Turvey talk to Nicki Shields about the EP9
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Upon closer inspection…Yup, still awesome

The drivers both got to drive it, though with only 7 ever being made neither looked likely of owning one. Incidentally I got to meet Oliver Turvey for the first time, and although I’m not the most interesting person in the world Oliver listened to what I had to say and was polite and engaged. (I think I ended up mainly telling him about Road to Vegas actually) Nelson was there too but I was only able to say good luck to him as he was leaving.

Overall it was a really well organised event and NEXTEV’s PR and social media manager Rebecca took great care of me (And to a lesser extent Jack as he is probably more self-reliant) and the driver was also really friendly and definitely prompt on arrival. So I should really thank all the staff there who helped to make the event run smoothly and made it an engaging and exciting evening for all. (Yes, even you Lord Barker) And here’s to future success for NEXTEV on track.

If you want more information on Cloud Sport’s Road to Vegas Formula E competition before the final round on December 3rd-4th at Battersea Park (Probably the last time we will see FE and Battersea Park mentioned in the same breath) then check out their website.

Road to Vegas Berlin round-up and NEXTEV NIO EP9 launch

Road to Vegas – Paris review

In the last weekend of October I was back for more Cloudsport Road to Vegas action with the second round in Paris, and there were some very interesting developments, not just on the track, but also in the commentary box.

I’ll start off talking about the latter. Rene Alexander was once again on duty for the finale of the WRC eSports series, this time for the finale in Wales, so the semi-finals were covered by myself and Alie Tacq. However we were also helped by my friend Remco Majoor; like me he’s a member of Formula E Addicts but he also drives in the series, albeit thus far in the first two rounds he has been unlucky not to finish either of the semi-finals he’s made it through to. Fortunately for me though Remco could commentate with me for the final in Paris which Alie unfortunately could not make due to a prior commitment. It was nice to commentate with Remco for a change as despite knowing him a year I’d not heard his voice before the weekend, and it turns out that he is actually a great co-commentator who’s really easy to work with; I only wish I didn’t speak over him so much! I am sort of hoping Remco’s commentary position isn’t renewed too regularly during the rest of the season because I would love to see what he could do if he fulfilled his potential and qualified into a final. However with no points on the board halfway through the competition, Remco’s Vegas prospects unfortunately look quite remote, but I’m sure he’ll keep trying.

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Gian Trovo slowly crashes into a pit awning in his Semi final, running 9 laps down and having already lost both wings and his front left wheel. This man is an absolute legend! I would love to get into contact with Gian and do an interview with him, so if anyone knows him, send him my way.

Anyway so let’s recap what happened in Paris. The four Semi-final winners were Greger Huttu, Olli Pahkala, Patrik Holtzman and Bono Huis. There were a couple of hard-luck stories though; Muhammed Patel, starting from the pitlane in the first semi-final after an incident on the warm-up lap, put on some spectacular and unusual overtakes to get up into the 5th place needed to qualify for the final, when disaster struck with only a handful of laps to run as he was disconnected; this meant that the brilliantly named American Walter Wedgeworth managed to reach the final against all odds and without the aid of a front wing. Cem Bolukbasi somehow managed to flip his car upside down over the curb in group 2, whilst in group 3  Petar Brljack, who placed 2nd in the final at Long Beach, had an extremely messy semi-final after Jesus Sicillia spun in front of him early on and removed Brljack’s front wing. Another Formula E Addicts driver and close friend of Remco’s, Mark Berends, also had his suspension broken by Brljack, and Mark ended up 6th, just missing out on a place in the final to Miguel Ballestre; but as consolation Mark has jumped up to 25th in the overall points and is still in the hunt for the top 10. In the final group, it was sensationally Graham Carroll’s turn to suffer misfortune, as his steering wheel failed him right as he was approaching his pit marker; this meant he lost a 12 second lead that he had over Bono Huis, and later a huge lock-up allowed Wyatt Gooden to get past too; the result was that Graham Carroll started 12th in the final when he justifiably felt he could have started in the top 4. An honourable mention must go to Gian Trovo who was 7 seconds off the pace in qualifying, repeatedly pit to replace his front wing and ended up being lapped at least 9 times before retiring in comical fashion, being unable to avoid the marquee garage wall. But despite being way out of his depth, his never say die attitude made a great impression on me, and I sincerely hope that Gian comes back in Berlin to give it another go; so he’s made at least one fan!

The final had a very eventful start. Huttu and Pahkala led away from the front row, but Patrik Holtzman directly behind tried to squeeze Bono Huis into the wall, and subsequently was given a 5 second penalty post-race for not leaving enough room for the Dutchman. Whilst those two were squabbling, Enzo Bonito took full advantage to sweep around the outside of both of them to take 3rd position. Graham Carroll discovered that starting lower down the order on a Formula E circuit makes your life so much harder than at the front, as he was hit in the rear by Michelle D’Alessandro. D’Alessandro then rather cruelly spun Samuel Libeert out of his home race, and copped a drive through penalty from the Stewards for his indiscretions. David Greco, 3rd in the standings entering the race, made contact with Nikodem Wisniewski which lost both cars positions; Greco was judged to be at fault and was given a 3 second penalty after the finish.

Once the carnage of the first lap was out of the way, the race began to settle down. It wasn’t until the pitstops that we began to see some action. Marc Gassner and Dimitrios Parisis pitted the earliest on lap 19, a move which didn’t really pay off as it happens; it only freed up the faster drivers who were out of position behind them, and allowed them to jump them in the order in clean air. Bonito was the first frontrunner to pit on lap 21, followed by Huis, Wyatt Gooden and Wisniewski. The following lap Huttu, Pahkala, Aleksi Ussi (participating with a broken arm) and Carroll all made their stops. Holtzman, Jakub Brezinski and Aleksi Elomaa then vacated the lead when they pit on lap 23.

Through the pitstops one man had opted to go for a very different strategy; that man was Miguel Ballestre. Narrow runner-up in Cloud sport’s other series, the Seat Leon Eurocup, Ballestre had been struggling in 16th place and didn’t really have the pace to run at the front. By lap 25, the 3 Team Redline teammates Huttu, Pahkala and Bonito had all caught up to Ballestre and were starting to get severely held up by the Spaniard as he backed them into Holtzman. It wasn’t until lap 29 that they managed to clear Ballestre when he hit the inside of a curb and lost his front wing. But Miguel decided this was not a sign that he should pit for repairs and carried on regardless as his pace continued to worsen. Huis was able to retake 5th by braking late around the outside at turn one, but then Aleksi Ussi and Wyatt Gooden battled furiously for position whilst fighting in turn with the stubborn Ballestre, who on lap 31 moved in the braking zone very late which caused both Ussi and Gooden to take dramatic evasive action. This was something the stewards took a dim view of. Nethertheless, Ussi and Gooden both found their way past on the same lap, and a train from 9th through to 15th began to form up behind Ballestre. One man who took advantage of this bunching up was Carroll, who found a way around the outside of Elomaa in a risky but beautifully judged move through turns 4 and 5. The fun was over on lap 33 as Ballestre finally bailed out and pit, ending a suicidal stint from him which left him back where he started in 16th.

Up front, Olli Pahkala had a big scare as his rear wheel tapped the wall at the high speed turn 8 with 5 laps to go, but mercifully he got away with it and continued to push Greger Huttu all the way to the finish, but he never felt it was worth trying a risky move on his compatriot, so Huttu was able to win ahead of Pahkala and Bonito. With their teammates Huis and Ussi 5th and 6th behind Holtzman it proved to be a very good day for Team Redline. A difficult day for Graham Carroll ended with some consolation as Greco’s 3 second penalty in the bunched up pack dropped him to 12th, elevating Carroll into the top 10. Even with the dropped worst result, those precious few points could well make all the difference.

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Note: Holtzman set the fastest lap and scored 2 extra points for doing so.

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Next stop Berlin on November 19th/20th. With the championship hotting up, that top 10 is starting to take shape, but remember with the dropped score yet to come we could see the fortunes of many mid-pack runners fluctuate.

For further information and full streams of every race, visit: http://roadtovegas.cloudsport.club/

Road to Vegas – Paris review