Saturday, April 20, 2024

Portland E-Prix: Jake Dennis Claims Pole Position and Championship Lead

Jake Dennis snatched his first pole position of the season at the inaugural Portland E-Prix, after defeating rookie Sacha Fenestraz in the Final at the Portland International Raceway by just 0.079s. As well as that, the Briton is the new championship leader, due to having been awarded three points for pole.

Group A

Kicking-off qualifying were the eleven drivers occupying an odd position in the Drivers’ Championship. This meant championship leader Pascal Wehrlein was joined by Nick Cassidy, Jean-Éric Vergne, King of Jakarta Maximilian Günther, Sébastian Buemi, Stoffel Vandoorne, Sacha Fenestraz, Free Practice 2 pacesetter Norman Nato, Dan Ticktum, Sérgio Sette Câmara and Nico Müller.

With the championship fight being so close, it was vital that Wehrlein and Cassidy made it out of the duels, especially as the race is expected to be incredibly difficult. Halfway through the opening group and neither championship contender were in the top four, which was topped by rookie Fenestraz. Wehrlein sat in eighth with Cassidy in eleventh after the opening six minutes, whilst Vergne, Nato and Günther occupied second to fourth, respectively.

Cassidy jumped to fifth with two minutes remaining, with it having become clear that the track was speeding up. Both Cassidy and Wehrlein needed a huge final lap to make the top four, something the two title rivals incredibly failed to do. Cassidy could only claim sixth leaving him to start the race from the sixth row, whilst Wehrlein ended up in tenth, meaning the championship leader will start in nineteenth place.

At the front and the top four remained unchanged, with Fenestraz having topped the group from Vergne, Nato and Günther. It meant both Nissan Formula E Team drivers were into the duels.

Into the duels: Fenestraz, Vergne, Nato and Günther.

Group B

With Wehrlein starting so far back, Jake Dennis had a huge opportunity in Group B to put some space between himself and the German. Joining Dennis in the second group were Mitch Evans, António Félix da Costa, Sam Bird, Jake Hughes, Free Practice 1 leader René Rast, André Lotterer, Lucas Di Grassi, Edoardo Mortara, Robin Frijns and Roberto Merhi.

Before the second group got underway there was already drama for Evans. After having his battery changed ahead of qualifying, his car was pushed into the pit-lane too late. As a result, it was revealed that he’ll be investigated after qualifying for a ‘pit-lane infringement’. It ultimately didn’t matter, as the Kiwi jumped out of his car before entering the circuit, following an issue with his DC. It means he’ll be starting from the back of the grid, marking a horrible turn of events for the championship contender.

On the track and Dennis clearly meant business. The Briton sat at the top of the group following the first couple of runs, with Rast, Frijns and Lotterer occupying second to fourth. It was looking like a dream session for Avalanche Andretti Formula E at their home E-Prix, until Mortara dumped Lotterer out of the top four. However, the German got back into the duel places provisionally with just over a minute remaining, demoting Frijns to fifth.

As the chequered flag was flown there was still green indicators being set, suggesting that those in the top four weren’t safe yet. It was all change as Rast stormed to the top, with Hughes and Da Costa having also set times good enough for the duels. Rast topped the group ahead of Dennis, giving the Briton a huge advantage over his title rivals. It meant both NEOM McLaren Formula E Team drivers were into the duels, meaning there’d be four Nissan powertrains in the Quater-Finals

Into the duels: Rast, Dennis, Hughes and Da Costa.

Quarter-Finals

Ahead of the Quarter-Finals and there was breaking news, as DS Penske were heavily penalised for an incident ‘before Free Practice 2’. It was revealed that they set-up an illegal sensor in the pit-lane, breaching Article 8.9 of the Technical Regulations, 23.11 and 30.25 of the Sporting Regulations and Article 12.2.1.I of the FIA International Sporting Code of Software Implementation Guide. As a result, both Vergne and Vandoorne will start the race from the pits, whilst the team were also fined €25,000.

Despite this, Vergne was in the first Quarter-Final duel alongside Nato, in what was a pointless situation for the two-time FE Champion to be in. Interestingly, Vergne still opted to put in a competitive lap, with him having been just a tenth slower than Nato through the first half of the lap. Nato held on by just over a tenth, thanks to setting a 1:09.118.

Competing in the second Quarter-Final was Günther and Nato’s team-mate Fenestraz, who was looking to get both Nissan cars into the Semi-Finals. Through the first half of the lap and it was the rookie on top by just over two-tenths, leaving Günther with work to do. Fenestraz had a huge slide out of the final corner; however, he still set a quicker lap than Günther. The Frenchman’s time was just a tenth faster, with it having been a 1:09.060.

Another Nissan powertrain featured in the third Quarter-Final, in what was actually an all-British affair as Hughes went against Dennis. Following the first half of the lap and it was Hughes who was narrowly quicker, with him having boasted an advantage of five-hundredths of a second. Dennis’ second half of the lap was sensational though, as he went almost three-tenths quicker than Hughes after setting a 1:09.111.

The final Quarter-Final saw Da Costa against Rast, with the latter having been blisteringly quick all weekend. An error at the first corner for Rast allowed Da Costa to go three-tenths faster through the first half of the lap; however, Rast was pushing like crazy. The German staggeringly made up the time in the final sector, to beat Da Costa by a tenth courtesy of a 1:09.310.

Semi-Finals

Onto the Semi-Finals and the first matchup saw Nissan against Nissan, as Fenestraz took on team-mate Nato. Through the first half of the lap and it was the rookie who boasted an advantage of three-tenths, something he maintained for the entirety of the lap. Fenestraz beat Nato to qualify for his third Final of the season, after becoming the first driver of the weekend to set a laptime in the 1:08s, thanks to a 1:08.920.

Semi-Final number two saw Rast against Dennis, with both having been keen to join Fenestraz in the Final. It was Dennis who held an advantage of almost four-tenths through the first half of the lap, with Rast having seemingly made an error in the first sector. His error allowed Dennis to progress to the Final, after going nearly five-tenths faster than the German. Astonishingly, Dennis’ laptime was just a thousandth faster than Fenestraz’s, after setting a 1:08.919.

Final

So, the Final put Fenestraz against Dennis, with the latter knowing that if he claimed pole he’d enter the race as the new championship leader. With Dennis sitting just a point behind Wehrlein, the three points awarded for pole position would result in the Briton jumping the German ahead of the race. However, he had to defeat a determined rookie first.

As the duo started their laps there was just two-hundredths between them through the first sector, highlighting how quick the duo both are in Portland. However, Fenestraz brushed the wall out of the final corner which gave Dennis an advantage, one he pounced at. The Andretti driver crossed the line to claim pole position by 0.079s, thanks to setting a 1:08.931. It meant he not only entered the race on pole position for the first time this season, but that he’d do so as the new championship leader.

Dennis’ stunning lap gave him the ultimate advantage over his title rivals, who apart from Cassidy, will all be starting on the final two rows of the grid. It’s certainly advantage Dennis in the championship fight ahead of Andretti’s home race, with it set to be a race which you cannot afford to miss!

More to Follow…

\