Diriyah E-Prix fuels historic first race for Saudi female driver

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Britain's Sam Bird had to fight for his victory during a race in which dusty conditions tested the grip of the cars and the bravery of the drivers. (AN photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Britain's Sam Bird had to fight for his victory during a race in which dusty conditions tested the grip of the cars and the bravery of the drivers. (AN photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Britain's Sam Bird had to fight for his victory during a race in which dusty conditions tested the grip of the cars and the bravery of the drivers. (AN photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 24 November 2019

Diriyah E-Prix fuels historic first race for Saudi female driver

  • Britain's Sam Bird had to fight for his victory during a race in which dusty conditions tested the grip of the cars and the bravery of the drivers
  • The 32-year-old driver showed that the independent Envision Virgin team are not in the championship to make up the numbers and has a car with serious speed coming into the new season

Britain’s Sam Bird won the opening round of the ABB Formula E Championship in Diriyah on Friday, beating off the challenge of Porsche’s Andre Lotterer and Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoorne to take the chequered flag for Envision Virgin Racing.  

Bird, who had to fight for his victory during a race in which dusty conditions tested the grip of the cars and the bravery of the drivers, came from fifth on the grid to take the win.  

The victory continued the British driver’s record of winning an E-Prix in every single season of the Formula E championship since its inception in 2014. The win was also Bird’s ninth in Formula E, the third most of any driver. 

Bird put his win down to his pre-season transformation, saying on the podium: “The team did an amazing job in the off-season — it is an amazing car. 

“Last year was difficult and I went through a bit of a transformation. I did a lot of thinking and mental stuff — I’m fitter than ever before, and had massive weight loss. The team has learned a lot as well,” he added.  

The 32-year-old driver showed that the independent Envision Virgin team are not in the championship to make up the numbers and has a car with serious speed coming into the new season. 

Much of the pre-race talk was about the entrance of Porsche and Mercedes into the series — which now make up part of a German quartet of teams with BMW and Audi — and whether defending back-to-back champion Jean-Eric Vergne could get his bid to become a three-time winner off to a good start.  

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Bird beat Porsche’s German ace Andre Lotterer and Mercedes’ Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne to the checkered flag.
  • The entrance of Porsche and Mercedes into the series helped to make up a German quartet of teams along with BMW and Audi.
  • Round two of the championship and the second day of the Diriyah E-Prix gets underway today.

But Vergne started well down the grid after a poor qualifying session and retired from the race, while it was the British Envision team that took the glory ahead of their German rivals. 

Porsche and Mercedes will have been happy with their first day’s work in Formula E, however, with Lotterer and Vandoorne’s podium finishes. 

The two rookie teams said before the weekend that they would need time to adjust and make an impact in the championship, but Mercedes in particular had a dream start having seen two of their drivers qualify in second and third on the grid in the pre-race session. 

The drivers get a second chance at glory when round two of the championship and second day of the Diriyah E-Prix gets under way today. 

Saudi Arabia is hosting the first two rounds of the championship this weekend at the UNESCO World Heritage Site circuit, as part of the month-long Diriyah Season.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman opened the event during a flypast by race sponsors Saudi Arabian Airlines and the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, General Sports Authority chairman, said: “Once again Formula E makes history in the Kingdom with its biggest race ever, more cars, more drivers and more action. And once again the Diriyah Circuit has proven it is one of the finest Formula E tracks in the world. 

“Saudi Arabia has taken this event to our hearts and it is now a calendar event for the Kingdom, one which everyone looks forward to. My congratulations to Sam Bird and my thanks to all the drivers for giving us such a thrilling day of action. 

“Now they have to prepare to do it all again,” he added. 

Earlier in the day Saudi Arabia’s Reema Juffali made history becoming the first woman to compete in the Kingdom, driving in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the Formula E championship. 

After a respectable qualifying lap, the young racer from Jeddah finished her first-ever electric street race having climbed up to eighth place before focusing on crossing the finish line.  

Waving at a cheering crowd as she completed her first race in the Kingdom, a smiling Juffali may have finished at the back of the pack but that did not dampen her joy at fulfilling a dream. 

“Many (people) are surprised by all the changes happening in Saudi. 

“Seeing me in a car, racing, for a lot of people it is a surprise, but I am happy to surprise people,” she said. 

Prince Abdulaziz touted her achievement as a “watershed” moment for the Kingdom. 

“Reema will have thousands cheering her on as a professional racing driver,” he said.


Conor McGregor blasts Cerrone in 40 seconds in UFC return

Updated 19 January 2020

Conor McGregor blasts Cerrone in 40 seconds in UFC return

LAS VEGAS: Conor McGregor came back with a big bang.

McGregor stopped Donald Cerrone with a head kick and punches 40 seconds into the first round at UFC 246 on Saturday night, announcing his return to mixed martial arts with his first victory since 2016.

The Irish former two-division champion came out of a three-year stretch of relative inactivity and outside-the-cage troubles with a performance that echoed his greatest fights during his unparalleled rise.

After bloodying Cerrone’s nose with his first punch, McGregor (22-4) then floored Cerrone (36-14) only 20 seconds into the bout with a perfectly placed left kick to the head. He mercilessly finished on the ground to the delight of a sellout crowd of 19,040 at T-Mobile Arena.

“I feel really good, and I came out of here unscathed,” McGregor said. “I’m in shape. We’ve got work to do to get back to where I was.”

McGregor’s hand hadn’t been raised in victory since November 2016, when he stopped lightweight Eddie Alvarez to become the first fighter in UFC history to hold two championship belts simultaneously. With his fame and fortune multiplying, McGregor fought only his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather in 2017, and he lost a one-sided UFC bout to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in late 2018.

After a year spent out of competition and in repeated trouble with the law, McGregor got back into training and vowed to return to elite form. This dramatic victory over Cerrone indicated he’s well on his way, and McGregor has vowed to fight multiple times in 2020.

Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and veteran brawler Jorge Masvidal watched UFC 246 from cageside. Either man could be McGregor’s next opponent.

“Any one of these mouthy fools can get it,” McGregor yelled into the microphone. “Every single one of them can get it. It does not matter. I’m back and I’m ready.”

Cerrone is the winningest fighter in UFC history with 23 victories, a mark that reflects both his durability and commitment to an uncommonly busy schedule. Cerrone, who also holds the UFC record with 16 stoppage wins, had fought a whopping 11 times since McGregor’s win over Alvarez, and he was in the cage for the 15th time since he lost his only UFC title shot in December 2015.

But Cerrone’s last two fights were stopped when he took too much damage, and he couldn’t block McGregor’s decisive kick or recover from the punishment on the ground.

“I’d never seen anything like that,” Cerrone said. “He busted my nose, it started bleeding, and he stepped back and head-kicked me. Oh, man. This happened this fast?”

Although many observers have scoffed, the 31-year-old McGregor believes he can reclaim the fearsome form he showed during his meteoric rise to unprecedented MMA success. He won 15 consecutive fights during a five-year run from low-profile shows in Dublin to the world’s biggest MMA events, stopping five straight elite UFC opponents with punches on the way up.

McGregor walked to the cage at UFC 246 with the Irish flag wrapped around his shoulders. The bearded fighters touched gloves beforehand in an extension of this bout’s unfailing sportsmanship — not always a hallmark of McGregor’s previous bouts.

After the referee stopped the bout, McGregor peeled away briefly to celebrate, but quickly returned to comfort his disoriented opponent. When Cerrone’s grandmother, Jerry, entered the cage after the fight to hug her grandson, McGregor also hugged Jerry and got a kiss on the cheek.

Even after his prolonged absence — or maybe because of it — McGregor’s return is expected to be a huge seller on pay-per-view. The UFC said it made more than $11 million in ticket sales at T-Mobile Arena for the fourth-biggest gate total in the promotion’s history.

An eager sellout Vegas crowd showed up in person, with celebrities including Matthew McConaughey, Jeremy Renner and Dave Bautista, along with NFL stars Tom Brady, Christian McCaffrey, Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett and Jon Gruden.

Former bantamweight champion Holly Holm beat Raquel Pennington by unanimous decision in the penultimate bout of UFC 246. The 38-year-old Holm (13-5) had lost five of her seven fights since she memorably knocked out Ronda Rousey in November 2015.

On the undercard, 37-year-old flyweight Roxanne Modafferi pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent UFC history with a one-sided decision victory over previously unbeaten 21-year-old Maycee Barber, the UFC’s top 125-pound prospect.

Barber (8-1) injured her left knee during the bout, but Modafferi (24-16) was already dominating with the superior jiu-jitsu she has been practicing for Barber’s entire life. Modafferi was the biggest betting underdog on the UFC 246 card, facing 10-to-1 odds at some sports books.

Aleksei Oleinik, a 42-year-old heavyweight who made his pro debut in 1996, also beat Maurice Greene by submission in the second round.