“I can’t wait to race in Sao Paulo," says Formula E's first centurion, Season 3 champion di Grassi.
"It's been a dream since the first Formula E race for me, back in 2013. It has been close a couple of times and hasn’t quite happened but after 10 years of hard work and persistence it’s finally happening in Season 9 and for the start of GEN3 – it’s very emotional for me to be racing there. I’m from Sao Paulo, I was born just a few minutes away and grew up there. It’s going to be amazing racing in front of my home fans.
"The circuit at the Sambadrome looks like it will be amazing and the thousands of people that like to join carnival and spend some time in Brazil will be able to stay for the race, Zero Summit and the big music festival happening all on the same weekend. I’m sure the passionate Brazilians will fill up the grandstands!"
As it stands
Last time out, the inaugural Cape Town E-Prix provided a fourth sell-out crowd in as many events on Formula E's spectacular maiden trip to sub-Saharan Africa, with Table Mountain providing a backdrop surely unmatched in motorsport. One of the most memorable, and certainly the fastest E-Prix in our history followed.
The ultra-high speed circuit proved to be a real leveller with experienced drivers Sebastien Buemi (Envision Racing), Sam Bird (Jaguar TCS Racing) and Edoardo Mortara (Maserati MSG Racing) caught out by the challenge ahead of the race and a rookie in Nissan's Sacha Fenestraz clocking the series' all-time fastest lap to seal his first Julius Baer Pole Position.
Round 5 that followed proved one to remember, as two former teammates with three titles between them in Antonio Felix da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne fought to the last for the top step of the podium. Da Costa drove a storming race from 11th on the grid to his first win for TAG Heuer Porsche, after producing carbon copies of one of the outrageous overtaking moves you'll ever see for the lead, on two seperate occasions.
Not all the standings leader's way...
With a quarter of the season complete heading to Cape Town Porsche's Pascal Wehrlein led the way in both the Drivers' World Championship while the Stuttgart manufacturer had set about dominating the Teams'. A win-double for the German in Diriyah followed a podium in the season-opener in Mexico City. Hyderabad proved a test for the Stuttgart manufacturer, with a technical issue throwing the German's weekend into jeaopardy. They found the cause of the shunt, though, and Wehrlein recovered to fourth.
In Cape Town, Wehrlein escaped relatively unscathed once again with a healthy 18-points standings lead intact after he got it wrong on the brakes into Turn 9 and wiped Sebastien Buemi and himself out on Lap 1. It was "clearly my fault," said Wehrlein. As dominant as he and Porsche have been, this is Formula E and he will think himself lucky those around him in the standings also tripped up - not least Mexico City winner Jake Dennis in the Avalanche Andretti-run Porsche, who managed just 13th.
Porsche and Wehrlein may be heading the way in the standings and have no doubt been rapid, but that's not the full story. Jaguar TCS Racing's Sam Bird and DS PENSKE's Jean-Eric Vergne have led only a handful of laps fewer than the German and second-placed Jake Dennis.
Bad luck and that Hyderabad clash between the Jaguars has stunted the teams points tally despite strong pace and progress as the development race continues at lightning pace. You need only look at Envision Racing sitting second in the Teams' table with their I TYPE 6 to get an idea of Jaguar's potential. Consecutive non-scores are never a good thing, but the season is young with 11 rounds to come - there's plenty of time for all-change.
Vergne looks to be the driver on form at the moment, and Wehrlein will have his eyes trained in his mirrors as Formula E's only double champ followed a vintage defensive drive to take top spot in Hyderabad with second in Cape Town. The Frenchman will be looking to capitalise with a hat-trick of silverware in Sao Paulo.
Brazil, and Sao Paulo: the home of motor racing legends
The legendary Ayrton Senna: triple Formula 1 World Drivers' Champion and twice a winner at Interlagos, on home soil in Sao Paulo, Emerson Fittipaldi - another F1 title winner hailing from the city and a two-time champion no less and Rio de Janeiro-born Nelson Piquet Sr. another triple champ set the tone for motorsport's storied heritage.
The country has a passion unmatched for the sport, with generations growing up watching their heroes and idols representing their country on the world stage.
"When I was a kid, I was watching Formula 1," said NIO 333's Sergio Sette Camara. "The culture is very big in Brazil and the reason for that is it goes from grandparents to parents and into the children.
"I remember watching races with my grandpa, my father and my uncle and they were all influenced a lot by Emerson Fittipaldi; Nelson Piquet (Sr.) too. Of course, they pass that on to us kids and we really learned to appreciate our idols.
"The driver that were really at the top when I was a kid was Felipe Massa because he was at Ferrari, winning races. You saw that and thought "wow, he's driving the famous red car and winning races; that's what I can be - that's doable". I really think he was the one that inspired me - alongside Rubens (Barrichello) because they were winning races and at the top level of motorsport when I was a kid.
"I was there at Interlagos at the last corner in 2008 where he lost out on the F1 title to Lewis (Hamilton) at the end. It took 10 minutes for the whole crowd to realise what had happened."
In Formula E, we have a host of Brazilian heroes that have pioneered electric motor racing at the top level - bringing the country's motorsport heritage to a new, ever-passionate audience. Season 3 Lucas di Grassi is a proud Sao Paulo native. Nelson Piquet Jr. followed in his father's footsteps to win a title at the pinnacle of the sport as he sealed the inaugural Formula E championship in 2014/15.
Massa has been part of the series, too, in his time with Venturi - as has the great Ayrton Senna's nephew Bruno and Felipe Nasr. Sette Camara and di Grassi fly the flag this weekend, with an expectant home support to cheer them along.
GEN3's flying start
For eight races, the polesitter has failed to convert the race win, with the GEN3 formula throwing up plenty of opportunities for overtaking - da Costa becoming from 11th on the grid in Cape Town and Wehrlein from ninth in Diriyah two prime example. Only one prior race in Formula E history has been won from lower (di Grassi in Mexico 2017, from 15th). Cape Town also proved to be the closest race finish in 22 rounds at just 0.281 seconds.
The racing's better than it's ever been and heading to one of the spiritual homes of motorsport in Brazil and Sao Paulo with packed grandstands in the bag at every event so far this season, Season 9 and GEN3 is sure to keep drawing in the crowds.
Free Practice 1 for the Julius Baer Sao Paulo E-Prix gets underway at 16:30 local time on Friday 24 March.
Free Practice 2 follows at 07:30 local on Saturday with qualifying from 09:40. Round 6 of Season 9 gets underway from 14:00 local.
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