Piquet pips the pack at Long Beach ePrix
Thirty-five years after his father won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for his first Formula 1 victory, Nelson Piquet Jr won his first FIA Formula E race on the same street circuit. “We found something that helped us get a good start,” an emotional Piquet Jr said after taking the checkered flags. He became the sixth winner in the six events held in this 2014-2015 inaugural FIA Formula E season.
As others scattered into the first chicane around him, the fan-boosted Brazilian used late braking to take a lead from Daniel Abt that he would never relinquish. Piquet drove a clean race to the end, with a seamless change of cars to finish 1.705 seconds ahead of fan-boosted Jean-Eric Vergne of Andretti Autosport and 2.994 seconds ahead of point leader Lucas de Grassi, who drives for Audi Sport ABT. Fans around the world also gave extra power to Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, who didn’t have any luck on the day.
Another beautiful race day in Long Beach, with totally clear skies and temps in the high 70s was the setting for this Long Beach ePrix. Fans lined the 1.324-mile circuit and rabidly cheered their favorites each time they drove by.
The action began right at the start in the chicane erected specifically for this contest as cars came together but continued without safety car. The first safety car period came when Scott Speed miscalculated the chicane and clouted the exit wall, ending his day. A second safety car came for an incident in the Queen’s hairpin that is the final turn on this circuit, where Charles Pic speared a slowing Jarno Trulli, who failed to finish the race. Bird and Salvador Duran were the only other retirements.
With a single day to complete practice, qualifying and a 39-lap race on tap the 10 teams had very little time to make corrections during the preambles. In the first practice, Jean-Eric Vergne of Andretti Autosport hit the Turn 5 wall as he came off Seaside Way but the Frenchman still managed to qualify in sixth place on the 20-car grid. In practice No. 2 it was Daniel Abt who failed to make the front-straight chicane; he qualified second once the team got his Audi Sport ABT Spark/Renault ready for qualifying.
With four sessions of qualifying, there was ample time for every driver to get a clean lap; the sole driver to crash during qualifying was Vitantonio Liuzzi, making his second start for Trulli Formula E team. Team owner Jarno Trulli had hydraulic issues.
As the day began, only a few drivers were able to break the 1-minute mark around the 1.324-mile circuit; once qualifying was complete with Sebastien Buemi taking pole position for Team e.dams Renault, the Swiss driver’s time of 56.853 seconds showed that Buemi had come to an understanding of the Long Beach circuit. He was joined in the 56-second club by Abt, teammate Nicolas Prost, Nelson Piquet Jr (56.974-sec) for the China Racing Formula E Team. These four made up the first two rows of the grid.
The balance of the top 10 were di Grassi, Vergne, Antonio Felix da Costa, Speed, Jerome D’Ambrosio and Stephane Sarrazin. That lineup changed before the start when FIA announced the pole sitter had used excess power during his qualification laps and Buemi was relegated to the 10th starting spot.
There were drive-through penalties during the race for Pic and for Abt, for avoidable contact and excess energy use, respectively, but for the top three, everything worked to perfection.
“I felt very comfortable and knew we were quick,” Piquet explained. “We should have been on pole but had traffic. From the start, everything went right. I braked really late in the first corner – I had confidence in my brakes – and as soon as I got the lead, it was a matter of taking control and not making mistakes.” The pit stop was critical for Piquet, as was his control of the pursuing Vergne. “I had to watch my battery temperatures and [energy] consumption; I just brought it home. I had to be as consistent as possible.”
Asked if he spoke with his father about this race, Piquet said he’d been told to go to the Queen Mary, to take pictures and to stay there, that it was very nice. “Things might have been different 35 years ago,” Piquet said. He did not to take his father’s advice. Although he had the fan boost vote, Piquet elected not to use it. “The batteries were overheating a little bit and I didn’t want to push it.” Finally winning in this series and winning at this track, “This victory means a lot. It’s my first Formula E race win and it’s where my father won his first Formula 1 race.”
The second place result was Vergne’s first podium in the series and he said he was “happy to be here for the team; they’re pushing hard in the championship, even though I am not (because he hasn’t run all six races). It was good to end up on podium and the team did a good job getting the car ready for the race. This is my first time with fan boost and I have to thank all my fans.”
Di Grassi started the Formula E season with three podiums in a row but had difficulty in the past two races: “It’s an honor to be back in the lead of the championship,” he said. “We should have had good results in Buenos Aires and Miami but we had mechanical failures – it wasn’t the team’s fault. I’m happy to have four podiums in six races,” including his surprising Beijing win in the inaugural Formula E race.
All the drivers express pleasure with the Long Beach circuit, which has hosted street races since 1975. Piquet said of the circuit, “This is the quickest track we’ve raced and there’s a lot of history here. It’s wide and secure, very smooth. There are a lot of quick corners,” he said with a smile.
The losers will have plenty of time to lick their wounds as the winners and those with top five results have more than a month to enjoy their spoils. The next contest begins the European sector of this championship and takes place in Monaco the 9th of May. For di Grassi this is a home race and he “loves the track. It will be a pleasure to drive those streets again, although the course is much shorter, it will be very exciting.”
Words and Photos by Anne Proffit
(sorry no portraits)