Lucas di Grassi has taken Race 1-2 victory for Audi in New York as Jean-Eric Vergne take for Formula E Championship crown after a nail-biting race with title contender Sam Bird.
Oliver Turvey would not make the race start, after a suspected wrist injury from practice forced the Brit to withdraw from the weekend.
The Renault e.Dams’ of Buemi and Prost surged ahead at the start as Mitch Evans’ Jaguar found itself beached on the grid. Both Dragons of Jerome D’Ambrosio and Jose Maria Lopez collided, spearing carbon-fibre across the track and removing D’Aambrosio’s rear wing in the process.
Daniel Abt made a move on Prost early to take 2nd whilst Sam Bird crucially slotted himself into 10th behind the struggling D’Ambrosio. Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne – Bird’s chief championship contender – was mired down in 17th.
Tom Dillman however was flying in 4th position for Venturi after qualifying 9th, but the big mover was Abt, who finally made a move on Buemi on lap 6 at turn 11. The German immediately pulled a one second advantage over Buemi as Dillman slotted into 3rd ahead of Nelson Piquet.
The championship now was starting to take an interesting twist, with Vergne’s Techeetah team-mate Andre Lotterer now right behind the DS Virgin of Bird with more energy at his disposal. Lotterer would sweep past both DS Virgins in one corner and set-up a tactical advantage for Vergne.
Behind, Vergne was making up more positions after making a risky move around the outside of Felix Rosenqvist. Crucially however, the Frenchman was only two spots behind Bird, but with Alex Lynn playing defence for his DS Racing team-mate.
The defence wasn’t great, with Vergne easily taking the position from Lynn and closing on Bird, who was now sandwiched between both Tacheetah’s. Up front, Lucas di Grassi was now the man on the move, putting in purple sectors and taking 2nd from Dillman. Lotterer pulled marginally ahead to allow Vergne an opportunity for Vergne to make his move. It came a few corners later as the Frenchman dove down the inside at turn 6 to usurp Bird from 10th and extend his championship lead.
Bird – having used his energy in defence – was now dropping down the order to 11th after being past by Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix Da Costa. Likewise, Lynn was now down in 13th while Lucas di Grassi had moved past Buemi to take 2nd.
The stops began on lap 22 with Felix Rosenqvist stopping momentarily in the middle of pit-lane and forcing drivers to take evasive action. Everything was going wrong for Nelson Piquet however, with the Brazilian’s Jaguar retiring.
Di Grassi had now taken the lead, sweeping around the outside of Audi team-mate Abt and squeezing the German on the run to the braking zone. Team Principal Allan McNish was having minor heart-palpitations in the pit box.
Vergne was now into 5th and looking to secure the championship. Bird’s only hope now was a potential penalty overhanging the Mahinda of Nick Heidfeld. Even so, with the race dragging on, Bird would have less energy at his disposal to make up any further positions on merit.
A heavy late race crash for Alex Lynn, moved the barriers to the point where a recovery job would be in order and forced a safety period with 9 laps remaining.
With 2 minutes left on the clock, racing resumed once again with Maro Engel causing a nervous moment for everyone after locking-up whilst overtaking Prost for 8th. Bird would follow through to take 9th, but agonisingly fell one spot in order to take the championship over to the final race on Sunday.
Vergne in contrast serenely drove home to finish 5th and become the fourth Formula E World Drivers Champion and a tick-off David vs Goliath effort for minnows Techeetah.
“God it feels good”, said Vergne, after taking his first championship since his British F3 crown in 2010, dedicating his season over the radio to his his friend Jules Bianchi.
“What a job we’ve done. It’s just been incredible… I really don’t know how I feel. I had a problem with the second car, it was really stressful. It will take me some time to realize what’s happened”, said Vergne.
“It doesn’t really matter how I did it. The job is done. Allez Les Bleus! This team has never let me down. I will not let the team down.”
There will be no time to celebrate for Vergne, who has to concentrate on tomorrow’s race in order to take the Teams Championship.
“Based on Zurich we knew we could do it”, added Tacheetah team principal Mark Preston.
“I think we can be with them [the leaders] tomorrow to take the team’s championship”.
Championship runner-up, Sam Bird was philosophical i defeat.
“We didn’t have the efficiency today”, said Bird.
“We knew today would be really hard and it was. Very proud of our team for all the work. We have maximised everything, including today. Congrats to Jean-Eric on an awesome season”.
Images: Michelin and FIA Formula E
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