Puebla E-Prix: Rowland tops red-flagged opening practice in Puebla


June 19, 2021

by Topher Smith

Oliver Rowland ended the first practice of the Puebla E-Prix fastest in a chaotic session that saw a long red flag following a stoppage for Alexander Sims and a number of drivers finding the same piece of barrier on a drying track.

The opening practice session got underway on a damp Puebla circuit following heavy rain the previous day, with the DS Techeetah pairing of reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa and former champion Jean-Eric Vergne heading the field onto the track.

There was an immediate yellow flag as the Nissan e.dams of Sebastien Buemi pulled to the side of the circuit at turn four, but the Swiss was able to restart his IM03 and continue on his way.

da Costa set the first timed lap of the day with a 1:36.128s, with drivers struggling in the initial stages of the session as many parts of the track remained wet. The Mahindra Racing of Alex Lynn took P1 from da Costa with his first flying lap, but there was a big disparity between the times as drivers felt out the conditions.

As the sun came out and started to dry the track the times began to tumble, with da Costa briefly taking back P1 before being trumped by Rowland and the BMW i Andretti of Valencia race winner Jake Dennis.

Buemi put his earlier issue behind him to usurp Dennis of the top time by almost half a second, but then double waved yellows were then shown at turn 11 as Sims' Mahindra Racing came to a stop on the inside of the corner, the yellow flags soon turning to red as it became apparent that Sims could not get his car restarted.

Around the same time as Sims' stoppage, the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler of Rene Rast also became a cropper as he smacked the wall on the exit of turn seven, breaking his driveshaft and bringing an early end to the German's session.

After a lengthy pause to retrieve the Mahindra back to the pits, the session was extended and went green with 20 minutes on the clock. The entirety of the field - minus Sims and Rast - vacated their garages immediately looking to make up for lost time.

There was another brush on the turn seven wall as da Costa ran wide and clouted the barrier, before championship leader Robin Frijns went for a spin at turn one in his Envision Virgin Racing.

The Dragon / Penske Autosport of Sergio Sette Camara then became the third driver to take a trip into the turn seven barrier, shortly followed by the BMW i Andretti of Maximilian Günther as the corner proved tricky for multiple drivers.

Through the drama, the Mercedes-Benz EQ duo of Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries went first and second ahead of da Costa, before the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler of Lucas di Grassi, auditioning for a race seat elswhere in season eight, went half a second quicker than anyone else.

di Grassi's time was soon topped by the ROKiT Venturi Racing of Norman Nato, who went six tenths quicker. de Vries went into full power but made a mistake through turn eight and could not challenge for the top time.

The Dutchman's teammate Vandoorne then went back into P1, two tenths quicker than Nato, while the TAG Heuer Porsche of Andre Lotterer followed him through into P2. The ROKiT Venturi Racing of Edoardo Mortara went a tenth faster to momentarily take the fastest time, before da Costa drifted his DS Techeetah round the final corner en route to first.

There was a final flurry of laps in the last two minutes of the session as the track continued to dry, with Dennis putting his BMW i Andretti into the mix along with the Jaguar Racing of Mitch Evans.

The session ended under yellow flags as Sette Camara had a massive lock up and found himself pulling an Austin Powers in the run-off area, with Rowland and Pascal Wehrlein able to get their final laps in as they locked out the top two positions.

Reigning champion da Costa ended third fastest ahead of Mortara, Dennis and Evans, while earlier pace setter Vandoorne had to settle for P7. Lotterer, Nato and Frijns rounded out the top ten.

Image credit: Nissan NISMO

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