In the first championship round of the virtual Formula E Race at Home Challenge, Charlie Martin showed more progresses in an top-quality field of experienced simracers, as Gunther claimed victory in the main race.
Formula E started experimenting with simracing only one week ago, when the Race At Home series kicked off on the virtual streets of Monaco for its non-championship test race. This past weekend, the all-electric championship was back for some more action, as the drivers took to the Hong Kong street circuit for the first official round of the new simracing league.
British racer Charlie Martin, who had completed a positive debut one week before in a field of very experienced simracers, switched teams and left DS Teechetah to join the BMW Andretti squad, alongside series frontrunner Kevin Siggy.
Martin, racing as a permanent guest driver in the "Challenger Grid", qualified in P21 for the opening race of the day. Peter Brljak (NIO) led Siggy, Jajovski and Pahkala after the qualifying session, while Joel Eriksson, one of the few real-life racing drivers in the gamers field, rounded out the starting grid.
At the race start, Petar Brljak went deep into the hairpin, as it was rush hour in the midfield: the poleman incredibly maintained the lead thanks to a contact that involved Siggy, who lost a position to Rogers.
Channel in the Mercedes AMG flipped, creating more chaos at the back of the grid. Charlie Martin was very cautious and avoided major turn one incidents. She completed the first lap in 20th place, but was up to P19 one lap later.
Just like in the test race, Formula E employed a "Race Royale" format, which meant that after the first two laps, at each tour the last classified driver was eliminated. After the first lap carnage, Mike Channel was then the first driver to be eliminated.
Ahead, Petar Brljak showed impressive skills around the Hong Kong track, but couldn't break away from Rogers, Siggy and Pahkala, who remained very close to the leading NIO car.
On the seventh lap, Joshua Rogers emerged as the favourite to challenge Brljak for the race win, as he slightly pulled away from Siggy and started to put more pressure on the leader. Brljak struggled to contain Rogers especially at the hairpin, when the leading pair were lap after lap increasingly closer and employing different lines.
With the back-of-the-field elimination impending, Charlie Martin passed Alex La Flamme and survived one more lap, ultimately finishing in 18th place on lap 8. A good result for the Brit, facing some of the world's best gamers in the "Challenger Grid".
The build-up for the exciting finale continued and the climax arrived with two laps to go: Rogers dived on the inside at the hairpin, taking advantage from the same gap left open by Brljak; the Porsche driver made the move stick and claimed the lead. Kevin Siggy was ready to pick up the pieces from the battle unfolding in front, but Brljak defended his second place throughout the whole last lap.
Joshua Rogers took the chequered flag and claimed the first victory, ahead of Brljak, Siggy and Pahkala. James Rossiter was 6th in an impressive performance for the best of the real-life racers.
"Tough race with some pretty intense action in the opening laps, happy to finish P18 at this stage of the competition" - commented Charlie via her twitter, also congratulating her BMW Andretti teammate Kevin Siggy for the podium.
The second race of the day saw the real Formula E teams and drivers battling out for the virtual championship title.
Stoffel Vandoorne topped the first qualifying group, ahead of Pascal Wehrlein - making his absolute simracing debut - and Nick Cassidy after the second group. Top-rated driver Maximilian Gunther, winner of the test race at Monaco, only slotted-in in third after the last quali group.
It was a cleaner start off the lights for everyone, but right from the first hairpin it emerged a three-way battle between Wehrlein, Cassidy and Gunther for second place. The New Zealander, who had a great getaway, was forced to surrender a position to Gunther, while Wehrlein was involved in a contact at the tight chicane (turn 3 and 4) and dropped to fifth paving the way for birthday boy Jean Eric Vergne.
Andre Lotterer was the first driver to exit the scene due to the Race Royale format, followed by Nyck De Vries.
His Mercedes AMG teammate Vandoorne suffered a contact in the opening stages of the race, which relegated him to fifth place and out of contention for the victory.
Maximilian Gunther thus inherited the lead on the fourth lap. Formula E champion Vergne also saw his race going from bad to worse, after a quick internet disconnection forced him down the order. From the top-end of the classify, the Frenchman found himself battling to stay out of the last place bubble, but was ultimately eliminated together with some other big names such as James Calado, Antonio Felix da Costa and Sebastien Buemi.
With Vandoorne unable to recover, Gunther crossed the line to become the first Formula E Race at Home winner, ahead of Nick Cassidy who had subbed in for Sam Bird in the Envision Virgin Racing car.
Simracing rookie Pascal Wehrlein was an outstanding third, with Frijns and Vandoorne completing the top-5.
It was another dominant performance for Gunther, that after becoming the youngest ever winner in Formula E now emerges as the leading contender in the virtual edition of the electric series.
The Formula E Race at Home in partnership with UNICEF will be back next Saturday for its second round of both the Challenger Grid and the Formula E grid.