Sam Bird banished the memory of losing the inaugural Hong Kong E-Prix last year to take the first victory of the 2017/18 FIA Formula E season on Saturday, in a race that spent 30 minutes under a red flag.
The DS Virgin driver managed to take his sixth series victory despite serving a drive-through penalty after overshooting his pit and completing his car change outside of the garage.
Bird headed Jean-Eric Vergne’s Techeetah Renault and Nick Heidfeld’s Mahindra, who battled intensely behind the British driver in an often fraught battle.
The restart saw Vergne and Bird circulate together after they pulled away from third-placed Oliver Turvey.
The original start had seen Vergne hold on to the lead, while Turvey sprinted up from seventh on the grid, but the NIO driver soon faded and started to hold up a train of five cars, headed by Daniel Abt’s Audi e-tron FE04 behind him.
The race suspension was caused when Andre Lotterer’s Techeetah tried to avoid traffic ahead of him but nudged the barriers and caused Nicolas Prost, Mitch Evans, Edoardo Mortara and Neel Jani to come to a standstill on track.
After the safety car restart, Bird initially looked to be stuck behind Vergne, but executed an audacious move on his former teammate into the second hairpin to snatch the lead.
From there Bird seemed to be in control, but an error coming into his pit for the car swap saw him lock up and miss entering his garage, hitting pit equipment nearby.
This, however, did not compromise his lead and he emerged from the pit with an extended five-second gap, yet a penalty for not undertaking his stop in his pit garage meant he was served a drive-through penalty.
Remarkably Bird kept the lead after completing his penalty, emerging from pit lane just in front of Vergne and Heidfeld. From there he was able to re-establish a gap, which he then extended to the checkered flag to win by 11.5s.
Claiming fourth place on the road was Maro Engel’s Venturi, marking his best-ever Formula E result, only for the German to be penalized after the race for overuse of energy, meaning he was shuffled down to 14th.
Nelson Piquet Jr. claimed points in his first race for Panasonic Jaguar Racing in fourth, equalling Jaguar’s best ever-result in the championship.
The Brazilian capped it with a spectacular move on Felix Rosenqvist’s Mahindra, who faded to seventh after having to manage his energy at the end of the race.
Rosenqvist fought back after early contact from Luca Filippi’s NIO to after a mighty fightback through the field. Ahead of the Swede came Daniel Abt, who was hampered by a slow pit stop, and Antonio Felix da Costa’s Andretti in sixth.
Edoardo Mortara took points on his Formula E debut in eighth position ahead of Alex Lynn’s DS Virgin and Nicolas Prost’s Renault which completed the points scorers.
Season Two and Three title rivals Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi both failed to score after hitting trouble during the race, having clashed on-track early.
Di Grassi’s Audi team claimed his car had been damaged after contact when trying to defend from Buemi at Turn 1, forcing him into an early stop that left him short on energy to complete the race. The defending champion eventually was classified 18th.
Buemi had looked set to fight his way into the top-five, only for a Battery Management System issue before his pit stop to cause him on-track and drop out of the points in the process, eventually crossing the line 12th.
The second HKT Hong Kong E-Prix takes place at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
RESULTS: Race 1