The second New York ePrix of the historic double-header weekend was no less exciting than the first, with incidents from the very first corner to the last. Six laps longer than Saturday’s race, the teams had to adopt a different strategy to the day before, but fears that the race would be more like a procession were unfounded.
The start was almost a carbon copy of the day before. This time, the DS Virgin car on pole was being piloted by Sam Bird; but he still couldn’t defend quickly enough to stop Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra) from taking the lead on turn one. Behind them, a concertina of cars saw several minor impacts. Jean-Éric Vergne was shunted by Maro Engel, forcing the Techeetah driver into the pits for a rapid repair job.
Daniel Abt’s run of bad luck continued. His car began to slow to a halt on track, and it looked as though he would be stuck there until he finally managed to crawl back to the pit lane. But he was too many laps down by the time he arrived, leaving his only shot at picking up points coming from setting the fastest lap.
Bird showed great pace through out the entire race, and was pinned to the tail of Rosenqvist in the early laps. Nick Heidfeld and Pierre Gasly were also keeping pace, and opening a significant gap over the rest of the field. In the midst of this chasing pack, Tom Dillman was having to defend strongly against the advances of Lucas di Grassi, a man desperate for points.
Mitch Evans’s Jaguar careered into the run-off area and was then unable to select reverse gear, amongst other issues. This led to the first full-course yellow of the afternoon, on lap nine. His car was quickly moved out of harm’s way,a and racing resumed one lap later.
Bolstered by the opportunity to save a little energy, Bird made his move on the next lap, taking the inside line on the hairpin. Rosenqvist couldn’t close the gap, and almost lost another place to his team-mate, now hot on his heels. This allowed Bird to pull away into a commanding lead.
In the space of two laps, Di Grassi had found a way past Dillman and a slowing Oliver Turvey to pull himself up into a good point-scoring position. But the next target, Gasly, would take much longer to catch — by now, 7.6 seconds up the road.
Alex Lynn’s race weekend continued to be blighted by technical problems, and when his car stopped on lap 20, another FCY was declared. Being right on the cusp of the driver swap window, and with Bird was sitting on a 2 second lead, teams had to make a quick decision about strategy.
Mahindra pulled both their drivers in immediately. The rest of the field followed suit, despite most drivers having enough energy to stay out for 3-4 more laps. The key exceptions were Bird (10% remaining), Stephane Sarrazin (13%) and Vergne (17%).
Bird completed one extra lap before coming in, comfortably maintaining first place thanks to the short circuit and the FCY restriction. But Techeetah kept their drivers out on track for another lap, so when the green flags were waved, they were still sitting in the garage. A calamitous decision that put them down into 15th and 16th places – a position neither driver will have been happy with given their early performances.
With racing back underway, Bird continued to lead the two Mahindras, themselves a full 12 secs ahead of the rest of the field. It was now the turn of Dragon racing to provide some entertainment. Jérôme D’Ambrosio took a spin into the barriers, allowing Loïc Duval through, but recovered to rejoin behind him in 10th. Shortly afetrwards, Antonia Felix da Costa came under pressure from Duval, missing his breaking point and letting both Dragon cars through.
They were not done yet. Once da Costa had caught up again, he found both drivers battling each other for position. D’Ambrosio’s dummy down the outside, then a switch back to the narrowest of inside lines on the hairpin approach saw him edge past Duval. Da Costa then made contact, causing Duval to spin — a move the Andretti driver would receive a drive-through penalty for.
Di Grassi continued to battle with Nico Prost, a key battle in the constructors’ championship.
Back at the front, Heidfeld and Rosenqvist swapped positions: on the first occasion when Rosenqvist appeared to be having energy management issues, on the second when the team probably had an eye on the championship tables. Neither move had any impact on Sam Bird, who had built up an impressive 9 second lead going into the last lap, having used the same amount of energy.
Bird becomes the second driver to take the chequered flag twice on the same weekend (after Prost in London) and caps a mixed weekend for DS Virgin. But Gasly had a last-second surprise for the Mahindras, temporarily taking third position on the approach to the final corner before skidding into the barriers and ceding the final podium place to Heidfeld with just meters to go.
Nevertheless, fourth position is a fantastic result for the young Frenchman, and it brings with it vital points for Renault. Lucas di Grassi picks up 10 points for his fifth-place finish, halving the gap between him and Sébastien Buemi going into the final two races in Montreal.
- Sam Bird (DS Virgin)
- Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra)
- Nick Heidfeld (Mahindra)
- Pierre Gasly (Renault)
- Lucas di Grassi (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Nico Prost (Renault)
- Tom Dillman (Venturi)
- Jean-Éric Vergne (Techeetah)
- Robin Frijns (Andretti)
- Jérôme D’Ambrosio (Dragon)
Image: Pierre Gasly © Formula E