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DS Penske and Vergne on top form in Diriyah E-Prix

Jean-Eric Vergne's experience was key to success in the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix as he took pole position and a fine second place in the first of the weekend's two races.

Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Penske

Joao Filipe / DPPI

An atmosphere worthy of a fantastic film, an impressive drone show and a beautiful night race - these were some of the ingredients that made the first of the weekend's two Formula E races a success.

But before the show, which was of a very high standard after a less dynamic race in Mexico a fortnight ago, the day was punctuated by a number of events which highlighted just how good the two DS E-TENSE FE23s are.

During the first test session on Thursday afternoon, second and third places for Vergne and team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne set the tone.

The following day, after a session devoted to the set-up of the electric cars, Vergne set the fastest time in his qualifying group while Vandoorne was less happy, getting stuck in traffic on his fast lap and failing to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Vergne then set the perfect lap to best Norman Nato (Avalanche Andretti), then Sergio Sette Camara (ERT) in the semi-final.

"You've just won your ticket to the final," Nicolas Mauduit, DS Penske's deputy team principal, told him over the radio.

A few seconds later, when Mitch Evans was 73% favourite to win pole, Jean-Eric Vergne proved unstoppable and, like a metronome, set another benchmark time. It was the 16th pole position for the French driver, who on this occasion became the joint-record holder of pole positions, tied with Sebastien Buemi (Envision-Jaguar).

A lively but controlled race

Vergne got off to the perfect start and held onto the lead from Evans, who was still a threat in his Jaguar. The Frenchman was among the first to activate his Attack mode, with the aim of creating a  little breathing space.

Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Penske

Photo by: Joao Filipe / DPPI

Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Penske

Jake Dennis had meanwhile moved into the lead, and the battle between DS Penske and Jaguar continued behind the Avalanche Andretti of the reigning world champion. Dennis, Mitch Evans and Vergne soon broke away from the pack, with a fairly marked difference in performance.

Strategically - so as not to use too much battery power to resist the onslaught of his rivals - Vergne activated his second Attack mode and conceded two places. He remained in contact with the Jaguars and Andrettis, but with different energy strategies.

Often in the slipstream of Dennis, Vergne was put under pressure by Evans, who took advantage of his second Attack mode to maintain his position in the leading trio.

Vergne didn't give up, but with barely half the race to go, the amount of energy remaining was questionable. Evans tried to take the lead, but he was a little too optimistic and went off the racing line. Dennis, who didn't defend aggressively, stuck to his race plan and kept the lead.

Behind, Vergne tried a move on Evans. The DS Penske and the Jaguar touched, but the Frenchman got through. Having expended a lot of energy, Evans was overtaken by his team-mate Nick Cassidy.

Up front, Dennis and Vergne were still in the lead, separated by just over two seconds. Behind them, the Jaguar strategy was paying off, and in the final laps Vergne had to call on all his experience to defend his position properly. But he managed to get the job done and crossed the line just behind Dennis.

"When you start from pole position, of course, you want to win," said Vergne.

Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Penske

Photo by: Germain Hazard / DPPI

Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Penske

"But when you look at the way the race went, which could have seen us finish much further back in the standings, you have to be satisfied.

"This second place is very important for us because it represents the progress we have made since last year, and clearly indicates that we are now more capable of fighting with the Jaguars and Porsches."

On Saturday, the drivers will meet at the same time on the starting grid for a race slated to be one lap shorter in duration - down from 37 to 36. However, with the same amount of energy available to go the distance, the strategy and overall pace of the race could be slightly different.

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