Formula E Notes: Lucas di Grassi keeps points lead; Nick Heidfeld excluded from Putrajaya ePrix

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With Lucas di Grassi having to start 18th in last night’s FIA Formula E race at Putrajaya, Malaysia after brushing the wall in qualifying, it appeared there would be a new points leader in F-E by the end of the day.

Instead, the Brazilian is still standing atop the standings thanks to a superb drive from the back to finish second behind race winner Sam Bird. In an event filled with multiple recovery drives, di Grassi’s surge may have been the most impressive of them all.

It indisputably left him feeling even better than he did during the September season opener at Beijing, which he won following a last-lap crash involving Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost.

“For sure, this was beyond my expectations,” di Grassi said after the race. “Everyone is here to win, everyone is pushing to the limit as this track has proven once and for all this car is very tricky to drive even if you have done all the testing.

“The tiniest margin can ruin your whole weekend and that’s what happened in qualifying from my side and then to come all the way from the back of the grid on a street track to second is an amazing feeling. I felt I had a much better race than in Beijing where I won.”

di Grassi’s runner-up, as well as a 10th-place finish for teammate Daniel Abt, enabled Audi Sport ABT to assume the team championship lead as well in Putrajaya. They’ll take a one-point lead over Bird’s Virgin Racing team, 45-44, into Round 3 next month in Uruguay.

Abt had a poor start to the race and was forced to try and use strategy to make up ground. An early car swap on Lap 9 allowed him to go to the lead but in the end, a low level of remaining battery power on his second car made him easy pickings for the field and he struggled to nurse his car to the finish.

In the driver’s standings, di Grassi leads Bird by a three-point margin, 43-40.

Venturi driver Nick Heidfeld suffered an additional insult following last night’s ePrix when he was excluded from the race results.

Heidfeld, who was stuffed into a tire barrier during the first half of the race thanks to an aggressive inside move by Franck Montagny, was found to have made his pit stop car change outside of the permitted area in the garage by FIA officials.

He will be credited with a 19th-place finish, but because he was excluded, it cannot count as a dropped result at the end of the season.

Other post-race penalties include a five-thousand Euro fine against TrulliGP for releasing Michela Cerruti from the pits during practice with one of her wheel nuts not properly tightened; and a 10-spot grid penalty in Uruguay for Amlin Aguri’s Katherine Legge after her team had to swap the Rechargeable Energy Storage System in her car.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.