The 20th-place grid slot was the bad news but the good news was the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship’s first foray at this North American track seemed destined to herald a new intensity of strategic racing, so there would be opportunities to move forward.
Even with his glass half-full, Evans must not have realistically imagined a 16-place rise through the order, to the brink of the podium and vital points in a title chase that could scarcely be closer or more intense between five of the series' most talented racers. Nevertheless, that is what he achieved to land the ABB Driver of Progress award in Portland.
A couple of Safety Car periods disrupted the first part of the race. One for the recovery of Roberto Merhi's stranded Mahindra and a second after Nico Mueller's ABT CUPRA was skewered into the wall via a damaged front wing lodged beneath its front wheels.
Round 12 already looked to be a race where energy management would be a focus given the circuit's fast, sweeping nature and drivers would be looking to take every opportunity to conserve their usable energy for a late-race charge on a challenging layout for energy harvesting.
It is normal for an E-Prix to build to a climax as drivers race as patiently as possible early on to have as much energy in reserve for the closing laps, which invariably run at a faster pace after drivers and engineers make the decision to 'jump' and sprint flat out to the finish - ideally with clear air and track position in their favour.
Extreme energy and late-race pace
This time out, the combination of the new circuit's unique characteristics on the Formula E calendar, and the circumstances as the race unfolded meant the maiden visit to the Portland International Speedway race was destined to become a more extreme manifestation of this.
The speeds in the final third of the race could not have contrasted more severely with the rest. Those in the pack were using full throttle for barely one third of the lap through the first 20 laps – Evans’s highest average throttle depth in this period was around 33%, whereas in the final 10 laps or so, throttle usage was close to half and peaked at some 50% of the lap.
This manifested itself in dramatically different average speeds across the duration of the encounter. Evans peaked at 144km/h in the first 21 laps, for example, but then beat that on every one of his final 11 laps - averaging 150km/h over that sample, peaking at 153km/h. His average speed at the end of the race was 6km/h faster than his highest speed up to that point.
It explains why, despite climbing 16 places in total and contributing a healthy share of the record 403 overtakes in this race, Evans actually made little progress in the first half of it. By design and the invention of Evans and his Jaguar engineers, the lower speeds over that opening third, and the Kiwi's position in the pack had earned him a useful energy reserve.
He had a superior battery percentage to the eventual podium finishers in the first half of the race – a huge, in Formula E terms, 2% clear at one stage – and he used that advantage to launch himself well into the top 10.
Evans was running 16th on Lap 17 of 32 when his race transformed. By Lap 19, Evans had made it as high as second, though this sharp progress into the podium places was always going to be slightly short-lived as he still needed to activate his first 50kW ATTACK MODE boost but it was crucial Evans hauled himself into the top half when he did.
Those two-and-a-bit laps were astonishing and made for an unusually dramatic rise. Unsurprisingly, Evans then slipped as far back as ninth over the next few laps as the final strategy moves played out through the pack, but the critical work had been done - with strong points now a viable outcome from the unlikeliest of positions.
The final run to the finish, after the last Safety Car, was defined by the freedom drivers had to use more energy. It meant tense jostling for position, electric pace and smaller opportunity to make sudden surges forward as speed differentials and margins closed - especially as Evans had burned the energy advantage he did have, so he was actually racing with a small deficit compared to those around him at the very end.
Salvage job and almost silverware
Had Evans not leapt forward when he did, those feisty final few laps that got him into the top five would not have been possible. He moved up to fourth on Lap 28, and had a nibble at the podium, but dropped down to fifth briefly before retaking that fourth position on the final lap having clawed back enough energy for one final assault.
Though two of his immediate title rivals still finished ahead of him, this was an almighty salvage job from Evans. To put it into context, TAG Heuer Porsche's Pascal Wehrlein started two places ahead of Evans on the grid but only rose to eighth – still a fine result, just not as remarkable as Evans’s progress.
Losing points to immediate title rivals is never a good thing but for Evans this could, and perhaps should, have been much worse. Importantly, it leaves the Jaguar driver in the hunt for the 2022/23 Drivers' World Championship despite a disastrous qualifying session.
As it stands, Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) heads the way in the overall leaderboard on 58 points with Lucas di Grassi (Mahindra Racing) just three back.