11 Jan 19

Pre-race roundup: Audi 'certain' of comeback, Rowland ready to fight

With just hours to go until the lights go green at the 2019 Marrakesh E-Prix, it's not just the track that's starting to hot up here in the heat of the Saharan sun. After the opening round of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship saw BMW i Andretti Motorsport's Antonio Felix da Costa clinch the win in Saudi Arabia, motorsport giants and reigning champions Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler are confident of a comeback, while reigning champion and DS Techeetah driver Jean-Eric Vergne plays down the pace of his DS E-Tense FE 19 car. 

Over at newcomers Nissan e.dams, rookie driver Oliver Rowland is up for the fight after making an impression in Saudi Arabia while his teammate, Sebastien Buemi - a proven winner here in Marrakesh - has hopes of another podium finish.  

Returning to the majestic streets of Marrakesh for the third time in the series’ history, the 2.99km Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan sees the new ATTACK MODE zone placed on Turn 3, which is sure to mix up the running order. With Shakedown complete, race day is nearly upon us. Here's al you need to know and what to look out for in the 2019 Marrakesh E-Prix on Saturday 12.

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Audi "confident" of comeback 

After a poor start in Saudi Arabia, reigning champions Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler were left sixth in the standings at the end of the year. "We need to improve everything," said frontman Lucas di Grassi after the Ad Diriyah E-Prix, clearly frustrated at the team's performance and conscious of suffering the same disastrous start the team had last season. With that at the forefront of his mind, "we improved everything, so now we have to see by how much, said di Grassi said confidently ahead of the race.  

"I think every single bit of the car has been optimised for here. If it's enough to win a race, that's the part I cannot answer until tomorrow but for sure we're going to try and for sure we're going to do better than we did in Riyadh.

"I can say with 90 per cent certainty that we'll be more competitive than in Riyadh," said the former champ.  

lucas di grassi formula e car

Rowland: "I didn't expect to be quite as comfortable" in Formula E

"Normally I'm pretty good at fighting," says Nissan e.dams' Oliver Rowland with a smile. After joining the team shortly before the start of the 2018/19 season, the British driver got off to a good start in Saudi Arabia after climbing up eight places to finish sixth overall in his first ever E-Prix. "I didn't expect to be quite as comfortable as I was straight away, so it was a surprise to be so comfortable," he admits ahead of the second round here in Marrakesh.  

"I was under a lot of pressure from di Grassi at the start - he was all over the back of me and I was still trying to understand everything. Once I got in a rhythm, I got away and started to make progress.

"Qualifying is going to be hard because I don't have much experience but I've done a lot of preparation in the sim. 

"Of course, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage [not knowing the track] but I'm not going to write that off and use it as an excuse - I want to be fighting with them."   

oliver rowland at the marrakesh e-prix

Moment of truth for Gen2

Making it's competitive debut in Ad Diriyah in December, the new Gen2 car stole the show in Saudi Arabia. With more power, more range and devilish looks, the new car brought some of the most competitive, close-combat racing in the history of the series. "We have more power, so the biggest difference between Gen1 and Gen2 is certainly that," insists Audi's Lucas di Grassi.

"In terms of the lap time in Qualifying, I'd say the cars will be at least three seconds quicker." 

With Audi driver Nico Mueller holding the current track record for Formula E in Marrakesh (set during the 2018 Rookie Test), tomorrow we'll be able to compare the top times of the Gen1 directly against the Gen2 performance.

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ATTACK MODE - more unpredictability, more overtaking

After the 2018 SAUDIA Ad Diriyah E-Prix saw the global debut of ATTACK MODE - which lets every driver pick up an extra 25kW of power at their own risk by heading off the racing line - its time for the new power mode to make its second outing. 

Placed on Turn 3, the ATTACK MODE Activation Zone will see drivers take a wide line around the corner in order to pick up the extra hit of power. Once round and through the zone, ATTCK MODE can be engaged. With drivers finding out how many times they are permitted to use the device and how long for just one hour before the race, expect some last minute driver decisions to spice up the action on track even more. "There will be more overtaking than in Riyadh, for sure," says previous winner and seasoned Formula E driver Sebastien Buemi with a smile.  

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Vergne: "we don't have a car that's one second faster than anyone else" 

"Saudi went well," says reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Techeetah) modestly. The Frenchman clinched the 2017/18 drivers title in New York City last year and kicked off the new season with a fine performance in Saudi Arabia, finishing second. 

"We're very confident with the car but, then again, I don't think the speed we had was real in comparison to the other teams. Some drivers just didn't know where to place their wheels.

"I mean Andre and I don't have a car that's one second faster than anyone else! The day after [in testing], everyone was matching our speed. 

"[Marrakesh] will be tight - a lot tighter than it used to be," he insists.  

jev at the marrakesh e-prix