Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne held off Lucas di Grassi in a tense race-long battle to win a thrilling Punta del Este ePrix.
Vergne headed the lead pack throughout the race from pole, which he was handed just 30 minutes before the start when di Grassi was demoted to second following a long post-qualifying investigation for cutting a chicane during the superpole session. Sam Bird shot up the order to take third, ahead of the equally hard-charging Mitch Evans, who was also demoted from qualifying for a weight distribution issue that meant he lined up 16th.
At the start, Vergne made a lightning getaway but could not escape di Grassi's clutches. Their nail-biting battle raged on either side of a safety car period caused by Nick Heidfeld, who stopped on-track due to a technical system error.
The lead duo pitted on lap 19 of 37, with Vergne keeping the lead throughout the car swaps. Di Grassi mounted a major attack when approaching the final Turn 16/17 chicane on lap 21, but could only take to the outside and had to slow down to avoid hitting the wall.
The reigning champion charged back up to Vergne, where he once again got stuck in. Vergne survived contact with di Grassi at the final corner, with three laps to run, and another clash at Turn 1 on the next lap. The French racer defended his lead until the finish, eventually winning by 0.447 seconds.
The pair was joined later on by Bird, who had earlier made a rapid getaway from ninth. He passed Sebastien Buemi on the run to Turn 1 and battled his way pass Andre Lotterer in the early running, before emerging from the pits in fourth place. He ran side-by-side with DS Virgin team-mate Alex Lynn – another driver penalised for cutting the chicane in qualifying.
Bird made it up to third – when Daniel Abt had to pit unexpectedly for a second time with what appeared to be a seatbelt problem – and was right with the lead two on the final lap before making a mistake and dropping further back by 2.1sec.
Evans emerged on top of a spectacular late scrap with Felix Rosenqvist, who had also battled his way up the order to fifth.
Lynn eventually finished sixth after running third during the early stages, with another early frontrunner – and the final driver demoted on the grid for a superpole incident – Oliver Turvey, who finished seventh.
Dragon pair Jose Maria Lopez and Jerome D'Ambrosio ran an extra lap longer than most and rose to eighth and ninth from 18th and 10th, respectively. Maro Engel rounded out the top 10 for Venturi. Lotterer faded to 12th following a brush with the wall and Abt was eventually classified 14th.
Alongside Heidfeld, Buemi and Nelson Piquet were the other non-finishers after making premature car-swaps. Buemi hit the wall at the high-speed Turn 13 right-hander on lap 10 and suffered left-rear damage as he chased Turvey and Abt, early on. Piquet picked up damage on the opening lap and had to switch cars due to a driveshaft problem.
Result - 37 laps
Lucas di Grassi
Jose Maria Lopez
Antonio Felix da Costa
Nelson Piquet Jr.