By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
After struggling through the 2016-17 FIA Formula E season, Panasonic Jaguar Racing bounced back with a strong opening race to start Season Four.
Inaugural Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jr. put together a strong fourth-place run to give the British team 12 points in the first of two races at the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix – a result that sees the organization just 15 points away from matching their Season Three total (27 points) heading into the second race of the doubleheader.
While Piquet led the way for the team in the race, it was Mitch Evans that surged in the day’s two free practice sessions. The New Zealander slotted in second in the opening session, then topped the final pre-qualifying practice to set himself up among the favorites from qualifying.
But Evans’ day quickly unraveled from there when a timing issue prevented him from delivering a solid qualifying lap. The 23-year-old was gridded in 19th for the race start, which left him with nowhere to go when a big stack-up led to a red flag just two laps into the event.
Evans battled his way up to 13th before the checkered flag fell, but was a non-factor for points.
Still, he found much to be positive about after showing unexpected pace.
“The day started really well, and it was great to finish top of the second practice session,” Evans said. “There were some timing issues in qualifying which lead to starting the race in nineteenth position, and then the restart on the second lap, which meant today’s race was frustrating. The car feels good, and I was setting some good lap times so I’m hopeful for a better result tomorrow.”
While Evans was out of contention from the start, Piquet made the most of his debut with Jaguar to find himself in the running for a strong finish.
After starting 10th, Piquet put together the sort of run that helped him win a title in Season One, methodically working his way through the field for a fourth-place result.
“Firstly, I’m really happy and thank you to everyone from Panasonic Jaguar Racing for working so hard in the off season,” Piquet said. “It’s great to be back racing and to be competing in the points in our first race is encouraging.
“We are trying to keep realistic about our results as it’s a long season ahead but in general we did a great job. The team can take a lot of positives from today including the pace and efficiency of the I-TYPE 2. The race was quite hectic, so I’m very happy to have secured the result I did today, and look forward to getting back on track tomorrow.”
The run matched Jaguar’s all-time best performance in Formula E, and showed promise for the organization’s Jaguar I-TYPE 2 machine as they hunt for a better points result in their second season. Considering they finished last on the grid in Season Three, the pace of both drivers to open Season Four gave Jaguar Racing officials reason for optimism.
“The key takeout is that we have a competitive car which is really positive news,” Panasonic Jaguar Racing Team Director James Barclay said. “Pre-season testing didn’t really give us enough of an indication, and what we have seen today is that we have a car that has got a solid pace and is also efficient during the race.
“For Nelson to finish fourth today was fantastic. Now we just need to continue to improve and be regularly competing for points.”
Evans and Piquet will get a chance to match their breakout performance in the Season Four opener on Sunday, when the Formula E paddock returns for Race Two of the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix.