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Inaugural A2RL race ends with victory for TUM

Saturday April 27th saw the first ever Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League, or A2RL, event take to the circuit at Yas Marina.

Machine met F1 talent, and one team's misfortune meant a victory for Munich-based team TUM.

After a week of build up, and plenty of lapping, the first ever A2RL teams got to the event they'd been waiting for: the first ever race in an all-new extreme motorsport.

In the lead up, teams had been hammering around the circuit as quickly as their meticulously coded ones and zeroes would allow, getting their driverless machines ready for the heat of competition. Keeping an eye on the track, seeing (and hearing) driver-free cars haring along Yas Marina's main straight wasn't rare, as each team honed their tech ready for the main event.

On the big day, the circuit was a hive of activity. A Fanzone decked out with gaming, VR, and race-related displays greeted over 10,000 excited fans, all looking forward to seeing a slice of history take place. As the build up to the race grew, the stands on the start/finish straight were packed with excited race goers - men, women, children, no matter who you were, A2RL welcomed you.

As the sun was setting, former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat kept crowds entertained by doing laps in a human-driven take on the A2RL's Dallara-chassied Super Formula car, and then showing off just what Dallara's own supercar, the Stradale, could do on track. Both looked, and sounded, just the ticket.

Kvyat wasn't there simply to enjoy a solo track session, but to take part in the first of the evening's events: Man v Machine. Here, he'd take on A2RL's home team, TII racing, to show the difference between a human, and machine-driven car. TII's car is the most advanced autonomous racer out there, having been developed from the series' genesis. While it put up a good show, Kvyat demonstrated that, for the moment man still has the upper hand over machines. For now at least. Speaking after the event, Kvyat commented: "It's a great engineering breakthrough. To see these cars driving around at a respectable pace is impressive. To share the track together, even though we just tried to coexist together carefully, knowing there'll be no unnecessary risk is very important. Competition, in the end, is what moves progress forward."

From there, it was time to race. Of the eight teams from UAE, China, Singapore, Germany, Hungary, Italy and the USA - Italian teams PoliMOVE and Unimore, and Germany's TUM and Constructor (which also represents Switzerland) - qualified for the four-car night race finale. No more than two autonomous cars have ever raced wheel-to-wheel on track and the world's stage was watching to see who'd make history and take the top step.

The cars had been putting in times around two minutes ahead of the race. Though a human can make it round a slug quicker in the same car, the qualifiers proved that a car can drive autonomously, and without incident (mostly) around Yas Marina. When it came to the race, for the first half the four teams were playing nicely with each other - the aim of A2RL races is to have driverless cars behave like human-driven ones: overtakes, thrills, and spills are the name of the game - and PoliMOVE was looking to take the chequered flag. Well, it was until

disaster struck on lap five of the eight lap final. The luminous green Italian car ground to a halt, then turned towards the wall - thankfully it didn't drive into it.

PoliMOVE's immobility stopped the race, and all cars returned to the pits for a restart to cover the remaining three laps. Sadly, the PoliMOVE car didn't rejoin the field. In its absence, fellow Italians Unimore were in the lead… until their car suffered a similar fate to PoliMOVE and stopped stone dead. The race wasn't halted this time, and German team TUM stormed to victory with a last lap overtake, claiming the winner's share of the $2.25 million prize pot, and place in the history books as the first ever winner of A2RL. Fellow countrymen Constructor took the second step, while Unimore snatched third.

The race didn't go, perhaps, perfectly to plan, but for a stretch of time there were four cars driving around Yas Marina without people at the helm. As starts go it was a solid foundation to build on, and the lead up to 2025's event starts now.

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