12 Jul 18
"What a fight it's been all season," says DS Virgin Racing's Sam Bird just days ahead of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship season finale in New York City. "To be honest, at the beginning of the year, I didn't expect us to be in this position," he admits. But as unexpected as it might be, the British driver is the closest he's ever been to winning his first Formula E championship. With one man - Techeetah's Jean-Eric Vergne - standing in his way, we caught up with the championship challenger just moments before the season four showdown on the Brooklyn waterfront. Click here to catch all the action.
Ever since the very first race of Season 4, on Hong Kong's Harbourfront in December 2017, both Bird and championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne (JEV) have been engaged in a bitter battle for the championship title, fought over 10 races in nine countries over five continents. While Bird led the way for the first three rounds, it was on the streets of Santiago that Frenchman Vergne first placed above Bird, where he's remained ever since. Just 23 points behind Vergne, the championship leader will need to score only seven points more than Bird to take the championship title on Saturday. A daunting prospect for the 31-year-old British driver. "I need to beat JEV on Saturday in order to take it to Sunday and that's just the way it is," says Bird.
But it's been far from an easy ride for the DS driver and his team. Starting off well with a win in the season opener in Hong Kong, Bird has finished in the top five in all but two races this season. With six podium finishes to his name and two outright wins, the British driver has fought a hard fight in Season 4, despite technical difficulties. "I'm already so proud of the team and also proud of myself and what I've been able to achieve so far. But now we find ourselves in a championship fight and I didn't expect it at the beginning of the year but, you know now, why not - why couldn't it be us?" asks Bird confidently.
And the championship hopeful has a point. Having already proven himself on this circuit before - albeit a slightly different version of the Season 4 circuit before us today - with a win in both races of the double-header, Bird arguably has the upper hand in Brooklyn. "I do love this track," he laughs. "What an amazing backdrop we've got here in Red Hook. It's a great place to be and I'm pleased that Formula E has been able to secure one of the biggest cities in the world to host a Formula E event."
Formally teammates with Vergne when both drivers raced under the same DS Virgin colours until the end of Season 2, both contenders have seen their relationship transform dramatically. "Honestly, we had a bit of a difficult time as teammates, however, we've put that to bed. JEV is a world class driver, who can compete with anybody on the global stage," says Bird. "I have the utmost respect for him but of course, when I put my race helmet on, there's only one goal and that is to beat him," he sniggers.
But, for now, Bird must look forward and remain focused. In just a matter of hours, the British driver will face his teammate turned nemesis on the on the 1.47-mile (2.373-km) circuit set against the backdrop of the iconic Manhatten skyline. "To label myself as a world champion would be incredible," he admits. "The people that know and understand this sport - motorsport that is - will know these names, they'll know they are world class, so to be above every single one of them would be a big deal for me."
To get there, he'll first need to prove once again that he can conquer the unforgiving asphalt and concrete walls of the New York City circuit. For Bird, the Saturday of the double-header season showdown is everything. "Beat JEV Saturday, take it to Sunday and anything can happen," he says with a smile.
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