Piquet among famous names on Formula E grid

September 8, 2014

Piquet among famous names on Formula E grid

September 8, 2014

piquet_1An ex-Formula 1 driver, Nelson Piquet Jr. has been one of the sport’s busiest men in recent years driving Craftsman Trucks, in the Nationwide Series, making his Sprint Cup debut, driving in the Blancpain Sprint Series in Europe and leading the US-based Global Rallycross championship.

After racing Rallycross at Daytonaand sportscars in Portugal over the past two weekends, his schedule is about to get even busier when he makes his debut in the FIA Formula E Championship this weekend in China.

piquet_2The Formula E grid will have a a few familiar names to it – in fact – it will feature some of the biggest names of the sport from the late 80s, early 90s.

November 3, 1991 is the date of not only the shortest (in terms of distance) grand prix of all time but also the final occasion that the names of Piquet, Prost and Senna appeared on the same grid together.

The 1991 Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide, was the 204th and last of Nelson Piquet’s illustrious career. With three world titles driving for Brabham and Williams, he was one of the biggest names in Formula 1 during the 1980s.

Together with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, the trio claimed 10 world titles and provided some of the most memorable action in the sport’s history.

Thirteen years on, and it’s time for the next generation to make history of their own. On September 13, in Beijing China, Nelson Piquet Jr will line up alongside Bruno Senna (Ayrton’s nephew) and Nicolas Prost (Alain’s son) for the first Formula E race.

For Piquet – who will be representing China Racing – it will be an especially auspicious occasion.

“It’s a big deal for the whole team,” he says.

“The team owner is the promoter of the race. There will be a lot of PR work the week before, meeting a lot of people a lot of companies, attending a lot of events, so that’s good for all of us. I’m looking forward to it.”

Unlike Prost and Senna, who were signed by e.dams-Renault and Mahindra Racing respectively before pre-season testing began, Piquet is a relative late-comer to the unique all-electric championship.

But despite his seat at China Racing only being confirmed after the final test, he did complete the two race simulations and the last outing at Donington for the team.

Given the unique driving style that Formula E demands due to the way the energy in the battery needs to be managed and regenerated, he’s optimistic that he and the team, whose cars are run by GP2 and WTCC outfit Campos Racing, can recover any lost ground.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge to get the deal together,” he admits, “there’s been a lot of obstacles we had to get through, but we made it and showed that nobody can stop us.

“I’m excited but there’s a lot of work to be done and there’s a lot of catching up from my side because I couldn’t take part in the first three tests so that puts me back a little bit. And the same way it doesn’t help the team to change drivers all of the time – I think if they’d had the same driver in the car all of the time it would have helped the development.”

Piquet’s last race in a single-seater came at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, where he raced for Renault. Since then his career has taken a wide and varied path.

“We didn’t have a very good weekend last time out in Daytona in Rallycross,” he says, “we broke the radiator in the final race which meant the car basically stopped so we didn’t score as many points, but we still have a good margin of almost a full race haul of points to second place, so I just need to keep doing top five finishes and I think we’ll be fine to win the championship.”

Most of his recent racing has taken place in the US. He spent two full seasons racing in the NASCAR truck series, and showed fine oval racing pedigree by winning at Michigan and Las Vegas. He then stepped up to the Nationwide series for stock cars, but despite a number of strong showings, he never managed to win a race, although he had won at Road America during the previous season in a one-off appearance. This year he made his debut in the top line NASCAR Cup, driving for the small Randy Humphrey Racing squad at Watkins Glenn.

After spending his junior career in Europe, Piquet has really enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere of the American racing scene, where all the teams tend to camp at the circuit rather than disperse off to their separate hotels.

“It’s a more of a fun environment in America,” he reckons. “It’s more easy-going, there are more passionate people working in the sport over there, we’re racing all the time.

“I love it. When we were racing at Daytona the other weekend it was 35 degrees – it was really hot inside the car. It was little similar vibe to A1GP and we all got plastic pools around the back of the haulers and at the end of the day we’re all hanging there having a beer and just relaxing. I think that’s cool. You get to race really hard, and it’s intense and afterwards you’re able to relax and be calm and just be a little bit human you know, not robots as sometimes there are in Europe.”

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