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Vergne secures pole for season opener

Jean-Eric Vergne got his season off to the perfect start as he reversed his car over the line to take pole position following a spin at the final corner, beating the DS Virgin Racing of Sam Bird and the Mahindra Racing of Nick Heidfeld by less than 0.03s.

Group one kicked off the qualification hour in Hong Kong, with the Venturi duo of Edoardo Mortara and Maro Engel joined by season two champion Sebastien Buemi and rookies Andre Lotterer and Alex Lynn.

Lotterer was the first to venture out onto the circuit, setting an initial benchmark of 1:08.780s on his 170kW banker lap.

His one and only flying lap at 200kW yielded a 1:04.423s, which was soon beaten by Buemi who punched in a 1:03.966s to go P1.

Mortara was purple in sector one, but got held up by a sliding Lynn and ended up with substantial damage as he clouted the wall, putting an end to his chances of a rookie Super Pole appearance. Team-mate Engel went third fastest in the group, while Lynn had to settle for fourth following a scrappy lap.

Four-time pole-sitter Bird was in action in group two alongside FP2 time-topper Mitch Evans and Antonio Felix da Costa, while Kamui Kobayashi and Luca Filippi both made their qualifying debuts.

Despite a brief scrape on the wall, Kobayashi put in an impressive lap to go third fastest behind Buemi and Lotterer, before da Costa went fastest of all for only a matter of seconds before Bird put in a 1:03.276s to top the timing screens.

It was a disappointing session for Evans, who looked to be a contender for pole but made a mess of his lap and went slowest of all.

A potentially strong group three then burst into life, with season one champion Nelson Piquet Jr joined by the Mahindra pairing of Felix Rosenqvist and Heidfeld. Formula E’s most recent race winner Vergne also took to the track and debutant Neel Jani aim to make an impression following disappointing practice sessions.

Piquet Jr was the first in the group to head out and slotted his Panasonic Jaguar Racing machine into fourth place, provisionally enough for Super Pole.

Rosenqvist was next and slotted into second place, two tenths behind Bird, before Vergne went even quicker and stole second away from the Swede.

Jani aborted his 200kW lap, then Heidfeld came within a tenth of Bird’s benchmark and moved into second place, shuffling Buemi out of Super Pole contention.

The final group, considered to be the ‘group of death’, was made up of reigning champion Lucas di Grassi, three-time pole-sitter Nico Prost, two-time pole-sitters Jerome d’Ambrosio and Daniel Abt, and one-time pole-sitter Oliver Turvey.

Despite the high expectations, the red flag was thrown after Prost slammed into the barrier and took one of the sponsorship banners with him after an entanglement with his front wing.

To add to the chaos, the advertising was then effectively handed off to d’Ambrosio while he was on his flying lap, becoming wrapped up on his front left wheel.

Consequently, Prost was not allowed by the stewards to take the group restart as he had caused the incident, while d’Ambrosio was allowed another run.

Once the action restarted, di Grassi wasted no time in taking the fifth fastest time, but was demoted shortly after as Abt then booked his place in Super Pole, while Turvey could only manage the seventh fastest time.

d’Ambrosio, for all of his efforts with the banner incident, ended the session 11th fastest.

That meant Super Pole was contested by Bird, Heidfeld, Vergne, Rosenqvist and Abt, with the latter due to go out first in a reverse-order shootout.

The German laid down an initial benchmark of 1:03.724s, which wasn’t to be beaten by Rosenqvist as the Swede locked up into turn one and ruined his lap.

Vergne was next on track and put in a superb lap to take provisional pole position away from Abt, setting a 1:03.568s, despite spinning as he crossed the line and damaging his Techeetah on the outside wall.

The penultimate driver in Super Pole, Heidfeld, came very close to securing his maiden pole position and missed out on Vergne’s time by 0.029s.

Finally, Bird headed out onto the track looking to continue his form from the group stages and secure his fifth career pole. The Englishman was purple in sectors one and two, but a wiggle in the final sector meant he missed out by 0.027s, handing the first pole position of the season to the Techeetah of Vergne.

Reigning champion di Grassi will begin his title defence sixth on the grid ahead of Turvey and da Costa, while Buemi and Piquet Jr round out the top ten.

About Topher Smith
Topher is an experienced and passionate Motorsport journalist with Formula E, Formula 1, GP2/F2, GP3 and IndyCar all on his resume. When he isn't at the trackside you can find him furthering his own capabilities and knowledge through his endless search for original ideas and material. Also plays league pool.