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MOTOR RACING

Da Costa races to a dramatic and historic victory at Cape Town E-Prix

Da Costa races to a dramatic and historic victory at Cape Town E-Prix
Tag Heuer Porsche Formula-E Team’s António Félix da Costa celebrates on the podium after winning the Cape Town E-Prix, alongside second-placed DS Penske's Jean-Éric Vergne and third-placed Envision Racing's Nick Cassidy, on Saturday, 25 February 2023. (Photo: Victoria O'Regan)

Packed with drama and excitement, the inaugural Cape Town E-Prix shook up the championship standings with nail-biting overtakes and a heart-stopping finish for António Félix da Costa.

On a track that demanded perfection at each turn, Portuguese driver António Félix da Costa fought his way to victory for Porsche at the inaugural Cape Town E-Prix. He was patient, minding his energy and staying close behind his competition, until those opportunities presented themselves. And when they did, Da Costa was ready and waiting.

The Porsche driver lined up 11th on the grid, after having a difficult qualifying session. But he then picked off the field to climb into the top three by lap 21.

On lap 24, Da Costa’s moment finally arrived, and he made his moves through corners that had seen others crash, during previous sessions.

Taking the lead of the race from Envision’s Nick Cassidy, the Porsche then pushed to put as much distance between him and the field behind. To do this, Da Costa then moved into the Attack Mode zone to get an extra boost, but missed activation, allowing Jean-Éric Vergne to swoop in for the fight.

Fans were then treated to a masterclass of Da Costa’s skill, when he pulled a carbon copy of his move from earlier, this time on Vergne.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Cape Town first for Formula E, taking to the streets in Practice One

Having made the move stick, Da Costa said he was then on the limit to defend from the DS Penske driver behind. But his courage and experience paid off as he successfully stormed across the finish line to victory, making an emotional win for the season 6 world champion.

“I did not start the race being sure that I could win it … Our car has been efficient, so I knew we could go forward in the race, but it’s not an easy track to overtake on,” Da Costa said afterwards.

“I’m happy that I was able to pull a rabbit out of the hat when I had to.”

Tag Heuer Porsche Formula-E Team’s António Félix da Costa in action during the race on Saturday, 25 February 2023. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Disappointment for SA’s favourite

While Kelvin van der Linde was the home hero of the day, his race was over before it even began. During qualifying, Mahindra Racing confirmed that they had pulled out of the E-Prix, due to suspension issues.

The decision took Van der Linde’s team ABT Cupra out of the race too, as a customer of Mahindra. 

“The safety of the drivers and extended teams is of utmost importance, at this point in time,” the team said in a statement.

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Van der Linde, who had been keen to end his time deputising for the team on a high, said he was “devastated”.

“I was loving the energy from the home crowd, and after a very positive FP2 we were looking great for qualifying … This is not the way I wanted to end my home race weekend,” he posted on social media.

While the four Mahindra-powered drivers never made it to the starting grid on Saturday, the Cape Town track proved to be as demanding as predicted, with five drivers failing to cross the finish line.

It was also a mixed result for Porsche. Although Da Costa executed a near-perfect race, on the other side of the garage, Pascal Wehrlein fell victim to the challenging circuit on lap 1.

The championship leader overcooked it in the entrance to the corner on Beach Road, running straight into the green Envision of Sébastien Buemi.

After a dominating first four races, Wehrlein will leave South Africa empty-handed, with Vergne and Da Costa closing the gap for the title. Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis, currently second in the championship, suffered a similar fate when he received a drive-through penalty.

Tag Heuer Porsche Formula E Team’s António Félix da Costa celebrates after winning the Cape Town E-Prix on Saturday, 25 February 2023. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Pole position

Rookie Sacha Fenestraz was the star of qualifying, grabbing pole position with a megadrive that saw him take the fastest lap in Formula E-Prix history. On what is touted to be the fastest track on the calendar, Fenestraz was flying, clocking a lap time of 1:08.848 and an average speed of 154.987km/h.

“Achieving a pole position at such an early point of my Formula E career, I was very happy – it’s a way to say ‘thank you’ to the team,” Fenestraz told Daily Maverick.

The 23-year-old led into turn 1’s sharp left-hander on to Helen Suzman Boulevard, and then hung on to the leaders, as the four jostled for a podium finish. In the last few minutes though, the Frenchman’s luck turned as he found himself in the wall at Helen Suzman Boulevard’s turn 7.

“It was a good track, I enjoyed it a lot, and I like high-speed tracks, [so] it’s just a shame that we didn’t manage to finish it off with a good result in the race,” Fenestraz said. 

For both winners and losers, a resounding theme during the weekend was that drivers enjoyed the race. A brand-new track is always a challenge, but it puts everyone on an equal playing field. And Cape Town did not disappoint. DM

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