The concrete jungle of Brooklyn, New York has been transformed, ready to host the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. The double header (2-day) finale is back in the Big Apple for the third year running, but next season the finale will be moving to London.
So, for the last time the spectacular Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty frames the waterfront racetrack. But the famous view will be far from the minds of the 22 drivers as they arrive at the penultimate race in the 2018/19 championship series.
It’s been a rollercoaster season, with no clear front-runner emerging until the 9th race, when Jean-Eric Vergne (JEV) racing for Chinese outfit DS Techeetah, began to accumulate podium finishes. Now at the top of the championship standings, he is a healthy 32 points ahead of Lucas di Grassi, in second place, racing for Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler.
New Zealand’s own Mitch Evans, racing for Panasonic Jaguar, is third in the standings. Evans also holds the lap record for this track at 1:13.207.
With 58 points still up for grabs, eight drivers still mathematically have a chance of lifting the title. But the general feeling is that it would take a brave punter to bet against JEV, who has won three of the last six races, and is the reigning champion.
The Championship standings before the race.
With 14 corners lined with miles of unforgiving dusty concrete, the 2.373km track winds its way around the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal site in the heart of the Red Hook neighbourhood in Brooklyn.
In a shock qualifying round, favourite Jean-Eric Vergne only managed to gain a middle of the grid position in 10th. JEV locked up into Turn 11, the same mistake he made twice in the practice rounds.
Serial pole winner Sebastien Buemi, Nissan e.Dams will again start on pole in this penultimate race.
Mahindra Racing's Pascal Wehrlein and Panasonic Jaguar Racing's Alex Lynn in second and third, while rounding out the front two rows is Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler's Daniel Abt. Unfortunately for Abt, without the extra points scored for pole, he can no longer mathematically win the series.
Mitch Evans also had a disappointing qualifying round and will start in 13th, but still in contention. Nissan e.dams' Oliver Rowland topped the fastest time, 1:09.695s lap beating Evan's previously set record.
Championship front runner: Jean-Eric Verge
The Penultimate Race
The race which is being touted as the best Formula E race ever, started with a very physical opening. Buemi in pole position dominated.
Moments later, Geox Dragon's Jose Maria Lopez spun after a tap from Envision Virgin Racing's Sam Bird, causing chaos on Turn 7. Both Evans and di Grassi, having starting in 13th and 14th positions lose places in the series of incidents. In a bid to avoid the pack, DS Techeetah driver Andre Lotterer swerved into his teammate and title hopeful Jean-Eric Vergne, puncturing his rear tyre and forcing him into the pits. He only spends 10 seconds in the pits and doesn't lose a lap, but it's a far from ideal situation for the championship leader.
With his front wing and wheel arch littering around the track, Lotterer followed his teammate into the pits to repair the damage he sustained to the front of his car.
Buemi, and Alex Lynn (Panasonic Jaguar) continue to control the race, but five minutes in Tom Dillman (Nio Formula E), the only driver not to score any points in the series so far, but with a great qualifying round, is out of the race. And also of note is the number of drivers (nine) chosing to start attack mode so early in the race.
With 29 minutes left, Sam Bird (Envision Virgin) receives a 10 second penalty. Meanwhile the leading four cars are putting some distance between them and the remaining pack, where it's looking like only a safety car will save Vergne.
At 24 minutes to go, Robin Frijins (Envision Virgin Racing) sustains substantial damage and is out of the race. Suddenly, in the Jaguar, Lynn loses power. A motor control unit failure at turn 9 puts him out of the race with 21 minutes to go.
The safety car is deployed, and the field manages to bunch back up behind leader Buemi, with Alexander Sims (BMWi) in second place, followed by Daniel Abt (Audi.)
There's just 14 minutes time left on the clock (+ 1 lap) when in what is possibly the most exciting moment in the season, Evans slipped past Abt on Turn 4 to take third, striking the side of the German driver's car in the process. Off the racing line, Abt dropped to ninth, one place behind teammate Lucas di Grassi who had made his way to eighth. In a beautifully executed move, the Kiwi driver then continues into second place with 10 minutes remaining. Antonio Felix da Costa is in third.
Motara, who previously caused Vergne to hit the wall, is out with 8 minutes to go, but the seriously damaged DS Techeetah car is still in the race and moving up the pack. But in the final lap of the race, a devastating smash on Turn 2 between Vergne and Massa destroyed the Frenchman's chances of clinching the championship title today.
Crossing the line in first, veteran Swiss driver Buemi secured his first win in two seasons despite winning six poles. He is followed by Evans (+0.932 sec behind) in second place and da Costa taking the last podium spot (+1.216 sec behind.)
In 4th place, Sims was followed by di Grassi, and Abt in 6th.
Buemi, Evans and Da Costa, with Paul Budd, head of Allianz, waiting for the podium ceremony
But the E Prix winners won't be celebrating tonight, as tomorrow is the grand final of the 2018/19 series.
Despite not scoring any points in the NYC E Prix, Jean-Eric Vergne's championship lead was such that he is still in first place. However, the points gap has decreased significantly with di Grassi in second and Evans in third.
Tune in same time tomorrow morning (if TVNZ doesn't do what they did today and put Wimbledon on instead) for the grand finale. And don't forget to give our Kiwi driver, Mitch Evans your fanboost vote.