RACE REPORT: Dennis drives to dominant Round 2 win in Diriyah

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RACE REPORT: Dennis drives to dominant Round 2 win in Diriyah

Reigning champion Jake Dennis bounced back from disappointment in the Mexico City season-opener to win by more than 13 seconds in the first round of the Diriyah double-header under the lights in Saudi Arabia.

Dennis wins Round 2 in Diriyah

Dennis had been kicking himself leaving Mexico City after an uncharacteristic qualifying error led to a false start for his title defence. In Diriyah, though, the Brit made no mistake, immediately recovering from a sluggish start to hold the lead through ATTACK MODE and drive to the second-largest winning margin in Formula E history, at 13.289 seconds.

Polesitter Jean-Eric Vergne (DS PENSKE) had bolted off the line to hold an early lead and was forced into fending off the Jaguar TCS Racing pair of Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy as the race reached its climax. A late slip from Vergne relieved any pressure on leader Dennis and dropped the Frenchman back into the Jaguars and on the defensive. 

RESULTS: The full 2024 Diriyah E-Prix Round 2 classification

A last lap lunge from Evans, running third at the time but with second in his sights, cost the Kiwi a podium as he overcooked the stop into Turn 18, handing third to his teammate Cassidy. Cassidy, a new arrival for Season 10 from Envision Racing, took his own direction on strategy of the leaders, opting to take his two mandatory 50kw ATTACK MODE boosts late on as he clambered through from seventh on the grid at the start. That combined result for Jaguar TCS Racing sees the outfit top the Teams' table.

Sam Bird (NEOM McLaren) is as successful as anyone in Diriyah with two wins, and McLaren's new signing for 2023/24 was able to make up four places to finish fourth at the chequered flag ahead of Evans who will be disappointed third turned to an eventual fifth at the last.

Norman Nato (Andretti) steered to sixth, with Maserati MSG Racing's Maximilian Guenther seventh ahead of Mexico City race winner Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche), who holds onto the Drivers' World Championship lead by just a single point.

Sergio Sette Camara impressed in qualifying for ERT to make the Duels and line up fourth on the grid. He was able to get his hands on points at the conclusion with ninth spot, while Robin Frijns (Envision Racing) rounded out the top 10.

We return tomorrow, 27 January, for Round 3 of the season and the second race of the Diriyah double-header.

As it happened...

Vergne bolted off the line to a lead of more than a second, while Evans had to fend off Sette Camara through Turns 1 & 2 - the ERT driver pressuring the Jaguar man hard. Reigning champ Dennis, meanwhile, bogged down at the start, dropping into the pack before recovering his third spot by the end of Lap 1.

JEV was first to jump for ATTACK MODE, giving up track position and the lead to drop back into the pack and third spot, as the Frenchman looked to save usable energy early on. Evans followed on Lap 4 and Vergne was just about able to barge by the Jaguar to clamber back into P2 while Dennis hit the front and began to build an advantage.

That proved to be a wise decision, with the Andretti able to leapfrog Evans for second as Dennis jumped for ATTACK on Lap 6. The battle between the lead three was a real tactical game as the lead changed hands again - Vergne jumping for his second mandatory 50kW ATTACK MODE boost, six minutes this time on Lap 8 with Dennis following a lap later to take his second dose of ATTACK MODE and hold onto track position and the race lead. 

Evans, complaining of struggles with grip, was sandwiched between Dennis out front and JEV in third until then Kiwi went for his second 50kW boost. Dennis from Vergne, Evans, Nato, Sette Camara and Bird the top six on Lap 9. 

Dennis held a percent or so of energy in-hand on Vergne and Evans behind but the DS PENSKE driver looked to make life as difficult as he could for the Brit out front in what would be a straight fight to the finish between the top three - separated by just one second on Lap 11.

It was Vergne, though, caught by Evans. At Turn 18 the Jaguar driver caught the DS racer in the braking zone - making use of ATTACK MODE and a late stop to sneak into second on Lap 12. From there, Evans then set about pushing leader Dennis to the brink - the Brit forced on the defensive in Sectors 1 and 2 to be able to pull enough of a gap in Sector 3 to prevent the same move Evans pulled on JEV.

Evans did try a carbon copy on Dennis - overcooking it this time and dropping back from Dennis as he ran too deep into Turn 18, and back into the grasp of third-placed Vergne. That dive gave Dennis a handy two-second cushion in P1 from Evans and Vergne behind.

Formula E's only double and consecutive champion Vergne dispatched Evans with a squeeze down at that prime passing spot at Turn 18 on Lap 16 then switched his attention to cutting Dennis' 1.7-second lead. The Andretti out-front was more than one percent to the good on energy but his lead was shrinking as the laps ticked by. Vergne would have to measure any charge to perfection to have a chance at the top step.

The group behind took a different route on strategy, jumping for ATTACK MODE two-thirds through the race - Nato, Bird, Cassidy, Sette Camara, Guenther, Wehrlein and Hughes fourth to 10th and running behind Evans' Jaguar in third. Through those activations, Cassidy - running his own race and yet to take a single ATTACK MODE - put the hammer down to set a personal best lap time on the way by Nato for fourth, to file in just behind teammate Evans on Lap 23.

On Lap 26, Cassidy took P3 from Evans but the team game was the aim with the pair looking for third and fourth at the flag, as Cassidy was happy to relinquish a podium if he could rely on Evans' help through his ATTACK MODE activations in fending off Bird behind.

Vergne's push for the front came to a premature end with a mistake on Lap 31 dropping him back into the Jaguars' grasp as Evans now headed Cassidy in that final podium spot - the latter taking his final ATTACK MODE.

Dennis was able to stride away into the distance as the race headed towards its conclusion - to an ultimate lead topping 13 seconds from second-placed Vergne. Some response to his Mexico malaise. 

Evans made a last-ditch move for second at Turn 18 on the final tour but it proved costly - the Kiwi massively overcooking it, unable to stop the car and slipping to fifth while Cassidy stole in to take third.