Formula E: Vergne clinches title, di Grassi leads Audi 1-2 in New York Race 1

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Season 4 of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship has its champion, as Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne came from 18th on the grid – his qualifying time was disallowed after it was deemed he used excessive power during the session – to finish fifth in Race 1 of the New York City E-Prix to clinch the 2017-18 title. DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, Vergne’s closest rival, finished ninth, coming up just short of moving the title decider to Sunday’s Race 2.

Up front, Lucas Di Grassi finished off a strong second half of the season for him and Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler by leading an Audi 1-2, with teammate Daniel Abt finishing second. It’s the second Audi 1-2 of the season – Abt led di Grassi home in Germany back in May – and the second win in a row for di Grassi, who won in Switzerland in June.

BERLIN, GERMANY – MAY 19: In this handout provided by FIA Formula E, Lucas Di Grassi (BRA), Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, Audi e-tron FE04. during the Berlin E-Prix in the Paris ePrix, Round 9 of the 2017/18 FIA ABB Formula E Series at at Tempelhof Airport on May 19, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Formula E via Getty Images)

Abt moved around pole sitter Sebastien Buemi on Lap 5 to assume the race lead, but teammate di Grassi was on hot pursuit and began closing in after the mid-race car swaps.

Di Grassi then made an aggressive outside pass on Abt, even squeezing his teammate in the process, to seize control of the lead.

Behind them, Vergne was on the charge after languishing in last off the initial start. He eventually worked his way all the way up to a remarkable sixth, ahead of title rival Bird in ninth, following the car swaps. Teammate Andre Lotterer, directly ahead in fifth at the time, then allowed Vergne by to take fifth.

Bird, meanwhile was stuck back in ninth, unable to gain ground. A late Safety Car for a crashed Alex Lynn bunched the field up for a shootout in the final laps, but Bird was still unable to move forward. In the end, Bird’s P9 was not enough, with Vergne’s P5 giving him enough points to clinch the championship ahead of Sunday’s season finale.

Renault e.dams Sebastien Buemi rounded out the podium in third. Race 1 results can be found here, with updated standings found here.

Race 2 of the New York City rolls off at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”