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Big apple, big success: Bird flies to victory in New York City

Focus / ePrix

  • Lucas di Grassi managed to reduce the gap to championship leader Sebastien Buemi with a fourth place.
  • Mahindra Racing experienced a rather black weekend.

DS Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird took the victory in New York City ahead of the TECHEETAH-duo Jean-Eric Vergne and Stephane Sarrazin. Lucas di Grassi meanwhile showed a strong performance, finishing in P4 and reducing the gap to championship-leader Sebastien Buemi to 20 points overall.

The race in words

“Yeah, I’m up in Brooklyn,..” – the Formula E teams and drivers found themselves in New York City just as Jay Z already said in his famous New York anthem Empire State of Mind. Following an eventful qualifying session that saw DS Virgin Racing rookie and Formula E debutant Alex Lynn take a sensational pole-position earlier on today, the grid lined up for the first ever Qualcomm New York City ePrix. All cars managed to get away as soon as the red lights went out and Lynn and second-placed Daniel Abt (ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport) were battling for the top-position up until the first tight hairpin which Abt left in front of the impressive rookie. Teammate Lucas di Grassi who wants to use the absent of championship leader Sebastien Buemi (Renault e.dams) to catch up in the fight for this year’s Formula E crown started well into the race, gaining one position. Nevertheless, the Brazilian found himself in the midst of two contact-filled hairpins and was lucky to escape the action without any damage.

In front, Sam Bird (DS Virgin Racing), Jean-Eric Vergne (TECHEETAH) and Nick Heidfeld (Mahindra Racing) became the fighting-trio to hunt down the second-placed Lynn who had to let Abt get away. Meanwhile, further down in the top-ten Jerome d’Ambrosio (Faraday Future Dragon Racing) fell victim to the tight characteristics of the New York City track, damaging his cars so badly that he was forced to come into the pits for repairs.

Things heated up in front, with the battle for first becoming a breathtaking battle between Abt and Bird. The Brit was able to pass his teammate on lap 9, just after Heidfeld passed Vergne for P4. At the back of the grid, Nicolas Prost and Pierre Gasly (both Renault e-dams) found themselves in the weakest position the French squad has been in this season, not being able to keep up with the drivers in front.

With Abt struggling under breaking, Bird smelled his chance to finally take on the German. On lap 14, he attempted to get past the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver twice, but missed out on the opportunity. Nevertheless, on lap 16 the Brit once again showed his strength on the streets of New York City, taking the lead from Abt. Just seconds later, Heidfeld squeezed himself past Lynn with Vergne following the German just one lap later. Abt was starting to feel the pressure from his fellow countryman but as Vergne was catching up with the Mahindra Racing driver, Abt got another chance to breathe and get away.

Vergne then started to attack Heidfeld, managing to get past the German just after a few attempts. Further down the field, Panasonic Jaguar Racing driver Adam Carroll and Antonio Felix da Costa (Andretti Formula E) got a bit too close for comfort, resulting in both of them damaging their cars and in the course shedding parts of their cars onto the track.

Race leader Bird was the first to change into his second car on lap 21, handing the lead back to Abt who decided to stay out for an additional lap. After all driver completed their mandatory stop, Bird was leading the race ahead of Vergne, Abt and Stephane Sarrazin (TECHEETAH) who quietly, yet successfully made his way through the field. Di Grassi – sixth following the car swaps – then had to let a quick Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra Racing) past but was able to get his sixth place back just moments later.

Seemingly suffering from problems with his car, today’s little hero Lynn had to retire from the race on lap 25. It was an unfortunate end to the most impressive debut shown in Formula E ever since Vergne joined the series back at the Punta del Este in December 2014. FanBoost-winner di Grassi found himself in a Mahindra Racing sandwich, trying to attack Rosenqvist while defending his position against Heidfeld at the same time.

The last third of the race was started rather eventfully with a spectacular four-way fight for P10 as Tom Dillmann (Venturi Formula E), Gasly, Carroll and Prost were all trying to improve on their performances shown in the race so far. Di Grassi meanwhile found himself in a position to attack Rosenqvist on lap 33 and forced the Swede into a mistake that cost the third-placed in the championship to miss out on important points as he badly damaged his rear-wing and was forced to come into the pits for necessary repairs.

Mahindra Racing’s bad luck continued just two laps later when Heidfeld stranded on the track, after something broke on his rear-left tyre after hitting the kerb too hard. With 38 of 43 laps done, race control brought out the Safety Car with Bird in the lead ahead of Bird, Vergne, Abt, Sarrazin and a now Indian-pressure free di Grassi.

With two laps left, the race was restarted. Bird managed to create big enough of a gap to Vergne to keep his lead and no other driver managed to gain a position during the restart. On the final lap, Abt was hit by technical problems that cost him a safe podium as he dropped to P14. Bird took a well-deserved victory ahead of the TECHEETAH-duo Vergne and Sarrazin. Championship contender di Grassi was able to benefit from his teammate’s mistake, taking home a strong fourth place and important 12 points, reducing the gap to Buemi to 20 points in total. What more is there to say, rather than Jay Z’s words “Let’s hear it for New York.”

The race in numbers

  • Sam Bird
  • Daniel Abt
  • Sam Bird
  • Jean-Eric Vergne
  • Stephane Sarrazin
Pierre Gasly
Stephane Sarrazin
Robin Frijns

Benefitting from several drivers in front struggling, Renault e.dams-rookie Pierre Gasly managed to make up a total of 12 positions during the race- Third-placed Sarrazin started in P11 and thus made up 8 positions all in all. Similarly successful in his fight for positions was Robin Frijns who gained seven places in the course of the race.

Jean-Eric Vergne
Esteban Gutierrez
Jerome d'Ambrosio

Due to suffering from problems, both pole-sitter Alex Lynn (DS Virgin Racing) and Jerome d’Ambrosio (ABT Scheffler Audi Sport) dropped a handful of positions each – Lynn losing 17 places in total, d’Ambrosio losing 14. Daniel Abt experienced a similar disappointment as he lost 12 positions within the last lap due to a battery management system failure.

The fastest lap was set by Maro Engel (Venturi Formula E) with an impressive 1.03.883.

Nick Heidfeld
Stephane Sarrazin
Jean-Eric Vergne

Based on their free practice 1 performance and their quickest qualifying lap, Nick Heidfeld (Mahindra Racing), Stephane Sarrazin (TECHEETAH) and Jean-Eric Vergne (TECHEETAH) were the tree drivers that showed the biggest performance jump. This does not come as a big surprise though as the majority of the drivers improved on their FP1 time massively due to the changing track conditions. Heidfeld’s 4.485-second improvement and Sarrazin’s 4.371-second jump are nevertheless very impressive. Vergne meanwhile found 3.719 seconds in between FP1 and qualifying.

Sebastien Buemi
Lucas di Grassi
Felix Rosenqvist
Renault e.Dams
Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport
Mahindra Racing

Who is your driver of the race? Let us know!

ANTONIA GRZELAK | e-racing.net

Image courtesy of Rajan Jangda/ e-racing.net

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