Reigning champion Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Lucas di Grassi clinched his second victory of the season in the first race of the ABB Formula E Championship doubleheader in Brooklyn, New York, but Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne did enough to assure that he would succeed him as series champion.
“I can’t believe it — what a crazy race! God, it feels good!” said an emotional Vergne, who had been forced to start from the rear of the field after having his pole-winning qualifying time disallowed. “Now just France to win tomorrow — Allez le bleu!” he screamed down the radio.
With a just 19 cars starting the race after NIO Formula E’s Oliver Turvey injured his wrist earlier in the day, the field took off in front of a packed audience on Brooklyn’s waterfront.
After starting in second Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans failed to move off the line, dropping him to the back of the pack and eventually out of the race.
Swerving around Evans, Dragon Racing’s Jerome d’Ambrosio suddenly smashed into Lopez in Turn 1, tearing the front wing off his car and the rear wing off his teammate’s. Soldiering on, a good start had been spoiled for the two Dragon drivers.
On Lap 5, di Grassi moved up to sixth, dropping Venturi Formula E’s Maro Engel to seventh, while further down the pack, Vergne was plotting his rise.
Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Daniel Abt was doing the same — pulling ahead of Sebastien Buemi (Renault e.dams) in Turn 11 to take the lead. Further down the grid, the two championship hopefuls — Techeetah’s Vergne and DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, sat in 14th and ninth respectively. Despite starting the race in ninth, Venturi Formula E newcomer Tom Dillmann had made his way up to third place by Lap 12.
With di Grassi on his tail, Dillmann fought hard to keep the Brazilian from taking his podium but it wasn’t enough. On Lap 16, di Grassi stormed past into third, dropping Dillmann into fourth.
On Lap 14, Bird and Vergne and Bird were battling together in 10th and 11th respectively. With Bird sandwiched in between the two Techeetah cars, the chances of the British driver extending the championship until Sunday were looking slim.
Just seconds later, Vergne sailed past Bird on the back straight to take 10th behind his teammate Lotterer in ninth. With Bird now in 11th, the British hopeful led his teammate Alex Lynn in 12th.
Lotterer, furthering his attack, passed Maro Engel on Lap 18 to move into eighth. Back at the top of the pack, all that stood between another one-two finish for Audi was Buemi in second. With di Grassi hunting, the Brazilian glided past the Renault driver into second on the back straight.
In meantime, unable to defend his position, Buemi’s teammate Nico Prost had dropped from third to eighth by the midway point, while the drivers pitted to switch cars for the penultimate time.
On Lap 24, di Grassi went for his teammate, edging past Abt to take the lead. Not content with second place, Abt went back on the offensive, attacking di Grassi — much to the dismay of team principal Allan McNish. With the two Audi’s out in front, both would need to cross the line in order to secure the teams’ championship title.
With Vergne in sixth and Lotterer in fifth on Lap 29, the two Techeetahs hunted together, with the podium firmly in their sights. Slipping past Lotterer, Vergne edged into fifth in Turn 6.
With less than 10 laps to go, Lynn lost the back end of his car, sending him backward into the wall and ending his race in a spectacular smash. With the Safety Car out, the pack regrouped while the stricken DS was recovered.
With just over two minutes left, the race restarted, sending the pack into a frenzy as all 20 drivers battled to improve their position. But it was too little, too late.
With di Grassi and Abt claiming another Audi one-two finish, third place fell to former champion Buemi. But it was Vergne who stole the show, finishing the race in fifth with enough points to clinch the championship crown.
With the Teams’ championship title still at stake in tomorrow’s season finale on the Brooklyn street course, the work’s not over yet for the Frenchman, however. “This team has never let me down, so I would never let them down now,” he pledged.