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Olli Pahkala wins Formula E Vegas eRace, $200,000 prize

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Finnish sim racer Olli Pahkala has won the inaugural Formula E Vegas eRace after a stunning display against a 30-strong grid in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday.

As part of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Formula E held its first eRace that saw its regular racers go up against 10 of the world’s fastest sim racers for a $1 million prize pool.

Pahkala linked up with Mahindra Racing for the race, but was left trailing behind the dominant Bono Huis who topped each part of practice and qualifying, taking pole position and a $25,000 prize in the process.

Regular Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist came closer to toppling Huis during qualifying, but could only finish second. He was, however, the only Formula E driver to qualify inside the top 10, the remaining nine slots being taken by the sim racers.

The drivers qualifying 11th to 30th were required to take part in a qualifying race to reduce the grid down to 20 cars for the feature event, with DS Virgin Racing’s Jose Maria Lopez starting from pole.

Lopez led the early part of the race before being passed by Antonio Felix da Costa, who was then able to pull clear and score victory to take P11 on the grid for the feature event. The only sim racer not to make the feature race directly from qualifying, Petar Brljak, crashed out early.

Technical issues meant that only 19 drivers took the start for the feature, with Lucas di Grassi missing out on a chance to move up the field from 18th place on the grid.

Huis made a lightning getaway from pole to establish an early lead over Rosenqvist, who managed to soak up pressure from Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola and retain P2 during the opening stages.

The sim racers managed to keep their majority on the top 10, with da Costa the only FE driver besides Rosenqvist to run in the top half of the order early on.

All of the drivers were able to make their mandatory pit stop at any time, with most waiting on an incident that may slow the field down to see any real gains.

Said incident came on Lap 11 when sim racers Uusi-Jaakkola, David Greco and Graham Carroll crashed hard while going three-wide in a battle for P3; a costly incident when each position amounted to tens of thousands of dollars for the gamers.

Huis came under pressure with eight laps to go when Rosenqvist closed to within 1.5 seconds of the Dutchman before both pitted with five tours of the virtual Las Vegas circuit remaining.

Pahkala had been one of the first drivers to pit, and made the undercut work a treat to emerge at the head of the pack when Huis and Rosenqvist came in for their late stops to enjoy a sizeable lead.

Pahkala kept his cool through the closing stages to cross the line comfortably clear of the pack, bagging himself the most significant victory in eRacing history and the top prize of $200,000.

Huis managed to hang on to second place on the final lap, fending off a rapid Rosenqvist who comfortably ended as the top Formula E driver in Las Vegas in third place.

Enzo Bonito finished fourth for Techeetah ahead of Uusi-Jaakkola, with Greger Huttu in sixth for Jaguar. Jose Maria Lopez was the second-best FE driver in P7 ahead of colleagues Sam Bird, Daniel Abt and Nelson Piquet Jr.

F1 2017 driver review: Romain Grosjean

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Romain Grosjean

Team: Haas
Car No.: 8
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Austria)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 28
Championship Position: 13th

After leading Haas’ charge through its debut Formula 1 season in 2016, Romain Grosjean once again stepped up as team leader for the American team through its sophomore campaign despite scoring one point fewer.

Haas did not expect any major step in performance heading into 2017, having dealt with building all-new cars for two different sets of regulations, but the team was able to match its season one points total by the halfway mark this time around.

The big boost was the addition of a second points scoring driver – Kevin Magnussen – to partner Grosjean. Grosjean looked increasingly comfortable at Haas even if the car often presented problems, particularly under braking.

Radio rants were frequent, with Grosjean unable to drive around the issues as Magnussen did. But he was nevertheless able to finish the year as Haas’ top scorer, with his highlight moment being a perfect run to sixth in Austria.

Greater consistency was evident from both Grosjean and Haas through 2017, yet there were still swings in form that need to be ironed out in the future. The team was unable to capitalize on Renault and Toro Rosso’s late season difficulties that could have seen it jump to sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Grosjean once again proved himself to be a very competent and talented racer through 2017, but needs a little more panache – perhaps down to the car more than anything – if he is to put himself in the frame for a top-line drive in the future.

Haas continues to offer a good platform, though, and its third season should be its best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations. It will be a real chance for Grosjean to show what he can do.

Season High: A perfect run to sixth in Austria, leading the midfield cars.

Season Low: Crashing early with Ocon in Brazil, hurting Haas’ constructors’ hopes.