Sam Bird overcame an innocuous pit-lane incident in qualifying to take pole position for the Marrakesh ePrix.
A broken water-pump and diffuser courtesy of an end-to-end shunt with teammate Robin Frijns and Tom Dillman put the Envision Virgin Racing team under enormous pressure to turn the cars around in time; however, their labours bore more than a few low-hanging fruit.
Group 1 included Mitch Evans, Jean Eric Vergne, Antonio Felix Da Costa, Andre Lotterer and Jerome d’Ambrosio. Da Costa was pushing straight away on his full-power lap to record a 1.17:9. Evans was a tenth away to finish provisional second before being usurped by Jean-Eric Vergne. A mistake from Lotterer however saw him fall to provisional fifth behind d’Ambrosio and more than 1.6 seconds off the pace despite recording the quickest first sector.
Nelson Piquet, Lucas Di Grassi, Oliver Rowland, Sebastian Buemi and Daniel Abt were next out in Group 2. Di Grassi was over the line first but Buemi and teammate Abt were up on the Brazilian’s time in the first sector. A mistake from Abt put him in ninth behind Di Grassi in seventh; however, Buemi would vault to the top of the timesheets. Nelson Piquet put in a good time to salvage provisional fifth.
Sam Bird, Robin Frijns, Stoffel Vandoorne, Oliver Turvey, Tom Dillmann and Max Gunter followed in Group 3. Bird ran wide at turn one and compromised his first sector behind teammate Frijns, but an incredible middle sector to take over top spot from Buemi. Frijns could only manage sixth whilst Vandoorne’s lap went to pieces when his HWA shut down halfway through the lap. Gunter would suffer a similar fate, but by his own hand – collecting the wall at turn six after hitting the kerbs.
The main drama for Group 3 however came in the pits when Dillman ran into the back of Frijns on route to the weighbridge, sparking a chain effect as Frijns was pushed into the rear-of Envision Virgin Racing teammate Bird. Parc Ferme conditions however dictate that no repairs could be made without being relegated to the rear of grid. It would be up to the race director to declare if ‘force majeure’ could be instigated.
The final Group 4 consisted of Jose Maria Lopez, Gary Paffett, Felipe Massa, Alex Sims, Edoardo Mortara and Pascal Wehrlein. A massive oversteer moment from Paffett at turn 1 gave the Brit a lot of work to do and as a result could only manage one spot behind Massa in 14th.
Lopez slotted into eleventh, but the big mover was rookie Wehrlein who grabbed sixth. The Mahindra driver’s effort was short-lived as the German was pushed out of the superpole by Sims, who slotted into third.
That left Bird, Buemi, Sims, Da Costa, Vergne and Evans to fight for pole. Evans was first out with a very tidy first sector to build on. However, a lock-up at the start of the second sector saw the Kiwi throw away a good result. Vergne was next with less pressure on his shoulders. A neat lap from the Frenchman earned him a 1.17:5 and provisional pole.
Da Costa looked edgy through the first few turns and was a tenth down on Vergne at the end of the first sector. A very controlled lap put the Portuguese driver within nine-hundredths of Vergne and into provisional second. BMW Andretti teammate Sims was keen as mustard to show his talent, but a spirited lap lost him eight-tenths but good enough for provisional third. An extremely smooth lap from Buemi perhaps lacked a little aggression, but was enough to usurp Sims – for the moment at least.
All eyes were now on Bird put something very special together in a car with a questionable rear-diffuser. A textbook qualifying lap from the Brit put Bird quickest through sector one and seven-hundredths up in two. Incredibly, the lap was good enough for pole – Bird hailing the work from his team to get his water pump repaired in time.
Images: Envision Virgin Formula E Team and Nissan e.Dams
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