Sam Bird became the first driver to win an international motor race in New York, with a superb drive in the FIA Formula E Qualcomm New York City ePrix.
The DS Virgin Racing driver had to work hard for his win. His rookie team-mate Alex Lynn scored a stunning Pole Position on his debut, while fellow front row starter Daniel Abt of Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport both had to be overcome before the Brit could lead the race.
Once he worked his way into the lead, Bird pulled out a comfortable lead, which meant he was able to rejoin still in the lead following his mandatory mid-race car change. However, he could not afford to relax in the closing stages.
When a broken driveshaft caused Nick Heidfeld to stop at the side of the road, the Qualcomm Safety Car was deployed and Bird’s lead over the TECHEETAH of Jean-Eric Vergne was neutralised.
Even with Heidfeld helping to move the car out of harm’s way, there were just two nerve-wracking laps for Bird to endure before he could etch his name into motor racing history. But he timed his restart to perfection and gave Vergne no opportunity to deny him the landmark win.
“It was incredible!” he said. “Firstly, it’s incredible that we are here and congratulations to everyone at Formula E for putting this event on, I can imagine how difficult it was, but it’s been an amazing week so far. We had pretty good speed today. We learned a lot from Berlin and that was a real turning point for us, it may not have looked like it at the time, but I think we demonstrated that this weekend. Also hats off to my team-mate this weekend Alex Lynn, who did a scintillating job in Super Pole to take pole position.”
After a battling first part of the race, Vergne was able to stay out for a lap longer than most of his rivals before making a car switch. This allowed him move into second place during the pitstops and even though he couldn’t quite get close enough to put pressure on Bird, with his new TECHEETAH team-mate Stephane Sarrazin in third, Vergne was very pleased with his day’s work.
“As a team we have worked really hard this season and finally it’s our first double podium with my team-mate and that’s what I feel most happy about. As for myself I believe the start cost me the win. It was extremely dirty off line and everybody who started on the left-hand side lost a position. I had a pretty safe beginning of the race, I lost a couple of positions, which I knew we would get back again, and that’s what I did and I finished the first stint in second position. I pushed hard to save more energy than this guy [Bird] but he didn’t make any mistakes and he deserved the win.”
Sarrazin started the race in 11th, but was the man on the move during the first half of the race, fighting his way up to fifth before the stops and then gaining a further position to run fourth going onto the final lap. When Daniel Abt missed his braking point and overshot the hairpin, he dived through to record only his second podium in Formula E – the previous one coming in Long Beach in Season 2.
“I feel very good, it’s a great day for us at TECHEETAH. I made a small mistake in qualifying which meant I started from P11, but I knew I had a good car for the race and I started to overtake, and then I got a bit lucky on the last lap with the Abt going straight on.”
With championship leader Sebastien Buemi absent, the race was an opportunity for Lucas di Grassi to get himself into the thick of the title fight. Ahead of the race the Abt Schaeffler driver was 32 points in arrears, but starting 10th on the grid he would have to work hard to make significant inroads into that deficit.
He actually lost a place at the start, but then gradually worked his way up the order, and also took full advantage of Abt’s error to slot into fourth place. This earned him 12 points, slicing the gap to Buemi down to 20 points.
The Brooklyn track created some thrilling racing including plenty of overtaking and meant that no matter where drivers qualified a good result was still possible. From 12th on the grid Loic Duval scored his best result of the season for Faraday Future Dragon Racing in fifth, while sixth went to Oliver Turvey of NextEV NIO.
On his series debut, Pierre Gasly – who was standing in for Buemi at Renault e.dams – recovered from a mistake in qualifying that left him 19th on the grid to fight his way up to seventh place, one place ahead of his team-mate Nico Prost.
Robin Frijns gave Andretti something to cheer at its home race by taking ninth, while Adam Carroll finished in the top 10 for only the second time in his Formula E career for Panasonic Jaguar Racing in 10th. The Visa Fastest Lap bonus point went to Venturi’s Maro Engel and was worthy consolation after a mechanical problem in qualifying meant he had to start from the back of the grid.
The teams and drivers have no time to rest of their laurels however, as everyone will be back in the paddock at the break of dawn tomorrow for the second part of the double header, which takes place at the earlier time of 1pm.
2017 Qualcomm New York City ePrix (Rd 9) - Race results
1. Sam Bird, DS Virgin Racing, 52:29.275s (25)
2. Jean-Eric Vergne, TECHEETAH, +1.354s (18)
3. Stephane Sarrazin, TECHEETAH, +4.392s (15)
4. Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, +6.155s (12)
5. Loic Duval, Faraday Future Dragon Racing, +8.428s (10)
6. Oliver Turvey, NextEV NIO, +8.952s (8)
7. Pierre Gasly, Renault e.dams, +9.321s (6)
8. Nico Prost, Renault e.dams, +10.036s (4)
9. Robin Frijns, Andretti Formula E, +11.019s (2)
10. Adam Carroll, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, +12.073s (1)
11. Nelson Piquet Jr, NextEV NIO, +12.977s
12. Antonio Felix da Costa, Andretti Formula E, +13.341s
13. Tom Dillmann, Venturi Formula E, +16.337s
14. Daniel Abt, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, +1 lap
15. Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing, +1 lap
16. Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing, DNF
17. Maro Engel, Venturi Formula E, DNF (1)
18. Alex Lynn, DS Virgin Racing, DNF (3)
19. Jerome D'Ambrosio, Faraday Future Dragon Racing, DNF
20. Mitch Evans, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, DNF