Jaguar TCS Racing fired into life with an "untouchable" win-double in Rome at the hands of Mitch Evans in Rounds 4 & 5 of the 2021/22 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, getting its title chase back on track after a testing opening to the season.
The British outfit headed into Season 8 among the favourites having narrowly missed out on both championships in Season 7 at the last as Evans' car failed to get away from the line in the deciding final round in Berlin. Up to this point in 2021/22, it hadn't been plain sailing.
A double points-score in the Diriyah opener was followed by a tough time Round 2 and again in Mexico City with Evans floating around the cusp of the top 20 and teammate Sam Bird taking two 15th-placed finishes. So, pace in Free Practice to open the Rome weekend - an event that some saw as a defining one for the Big Cat's title challenge, and one that has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Jaguar - was encouraging.
Qualifying didn't immediately bear fruit ahead of Round 4. Evans started ninth and Bird 13th. Progress was swift in race trim, though, with the pair carving their way to the top step and fifth spot, respectively.
Crucially, Evans dispatched the Porsches - so dominant back in Mexico - almost immediately away from the line, and set about Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) and the DS TECHEETAHs after a brief interlude for a Safety Car to clear the track after a shunt between the two Nissan e.dams', Mahindra Racing's Oliver Rowland and then-standings leader Edo Mortara, as the ROKiT Venturi Racing driver sought to make up lost ground having failed to make the Groups in qualifying.
After clearing Dennis, Antonio Felix da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne through ATTACK MODE at the Marconi Hairpin, Mercedes-EQ's reigning champions were next. Nyck de Vries fell first, with teammate Stoffel Vandoorne fighting hard in a back-and-forth with race leader Robin Frijns - himself on a stormer in the Envision Racing machine.
With Frijns on the defensive, the pair fell back into Evans' grasp and on Lap 17, the Kiwi drove right around the outside of Vandoorne at Turn 7, before scything by Frijns at Turn 4 a lap later, again hanging the Jaguar around the outside to get the move done. And, from there, it was job done as Frijns followed some seven seconds back, with Vandoorne in tow to round out the race one podium.
"We haven't had a good start to the season," said Evans post-race. "We didn't have the speed but the team has worked so hard and changed tack. The car was perfect, I could hardly believe it, but it's great we had the pace again. I love this track and the city - it suits my driving style really well and with a car like it was, it makes life much easier. It felt amazing."
Evans picks up where he left off
Evans followed up on Sunday with the quickest time in Free Practice 3. Qualifying saw DS' Jean-Eric Vergne scrape through the Groups and string together a run to the final duel where he saw off Dennis. Evans, meanwhile, lined up fourth.
The Frenchman led away and fended off the attentions of Dennis to stride to an early advantage as the Brit fought to keep Porsche's Andre Lotterer back. This allowed Evans to clamber onto the back of Dennis and make light work of the Andretti, before clearing Lotterer for second. A Safety Car followed with home hero Antonio Giovinazzi stuck out on-track - his DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT car suffering technical problems. The gap to Vergne out front was closed to nought as a result, and the Jaguar stuck to his man before slipping by on Lap 11.
It looked as if the rest of the race would be a repeat of Round 4's closing stages, with Evans trotting off into the distance, such was Jaguar's stellar job on the I-TYPE 5 in Rome. The uncertainty came through ATTACK MODE - with a single activation the order of the day in race two. Those behind Evans went relatively early, with Jaguar opting to hold fast - Frijns went first and fired by Lotterer, Vergne and Evans for the lead.
With the Jaguar's pace strong, and energy management also looking well in-hand, Evans was content to bide his time. A late Safety Car for the recovery of Alexander Sims' stricken Mahindra threw his plans up in the air, with faces down in the Jaguar garage wracked with concern as the realisation dawned that Evans may not be able to fully complete his mandatory ATTACK MODE activation before the race was out.
With Sims' recovery on top of Giovinazzi's earlier issue - and the resulting pair of Saftey Car spells - an extra 5m15s would be added to the race time, much to the relief of Jaguar's engineers and Evans himself.
At the restart, Evans jumped through the activation loop on Lap 20, losing only a single spot to Vergne after teammate Bird's rear gunner efforts held the rest at bay. From then on, Evans was back in the groove, making no mistake to pull off surgical moves on Lotterer and Frijns two laps later to retake the lead and on to his second race win of the weekend - only the third driver to seal both victories at a Formula E double-header with Vergne feeling Evans and the Jaguar was "untouchable" all weekend.
"A double win here is pretty special," said Evans, "We weren’t necessarily going to do a different ATTACK MODE strategy – it was just about finding the right time and gap that made sense.
"With it being eight minutes, you have to be careful you don't leave yourself exposed. Once I saw going to Robin and Andre (Lotterer) come up pretty quick on ATTACK MODE, I thought we needed to start looking into it because you know, we're gonna start losing ground.
"Sam did a good job for me holding up Jean-Eric, otherwise I could have seen myself in a bit of trouble. I didn't expect to leave (ATTACK MODE) that late. But I had trust in the team - they're the ones with the full picture and, fortunately, it just paid off.
"This is where we wanted to kick-start the campaign, after the wake-up call in Mexico. Obviously, there's been a lot of hard work that's gone in but we never expected a double win. I just wanted to get a solid amount of points, gain some solid momentum and get the car feeling good but this is like that but on steroids!
"Just a huge thanks to the team - obviously this is a huge confidence booster, but we have to keep going to keep grounded because it's so easy to get carried away and think we're going to destroy whatever race it doesn't work very well like that. I wish it did.
"We’ve got Monaco coming up and we were strong there last year, but there's no guarantees this year as we've seen in Mexico and other circuits, so it definitely adds an element of relief into the team and that's always really, really powerful.
"Honestly, this performance was down to pure graft and hard work the teams, you know. We realised after Mexico we were struggling so Sam and I let them know what we needed and asked if they could find the answers. Since then, they've just got their heads down and really worked a lot. It’s the hardest I've seen them work in a long, long time. This is the reward; it's nice when it pays off."
James Barclay, Jaguar TCS Racing Team Principal added: “A double win for Jaguar TCS Racing in Rome. Weekends like this are incredibly hard to achieve but it’s down to the huge effort from all of the team to deliver this historic weekend for Jaguar.
"Rome has been kind to us with five podiums and three wins in three years and it’s great to have our season back on track after such a strong performance from Mitch and the team. We know how competitive this championship is so we’ll take this momentum forward from Rome, keep working hard and keep building on our championship in Monaco.”
Published on 12th April 2022