Sam earns season's first podium for DS Virgin Racing in Morocco
Sam Bird stormed to second place in Marrakech to bring home DS Virgin Racing's first points of the FIA Formula E season.
After the disappointment of the season opener in Hong Kong, where Sam led before being felled by technical issues, the 29-year-old Brit and his team targeted the formidable Moroccan street circuit for a fresh start.
And an exciting day's racing saw them demonstrate the potential of DS Virgin Racing's season three challenger, the DSV-02, in front of an audience of global decision-makers gathered in the north African city for a key sustainability summit.
A dramatic morning practice session saw drivers from all teams contend with the Marrakech track’s slippery surface and formidable corners, leading to a qualifying session that left Sam fourth fastest.
A strong performance in the Super Pole session put him third on the grid, but a penalty moved Sébastien Buemi down the order and promoted Sam to second. Team mate José María López suffered from a lack of running time in practice and qualified 13th.
A slick start from the leading pack saw early jostling for position, with pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist retaining the lead ahead of Sam. The action behind them began to hot up at around lap 11, and on lap 15 Jean-Eric Vergne took advantage of being on a different race strategy to grab second.
The two leaders then pitted but Sam and Buemi - recovering fast from his penalty - continued on track for an extra lap, ensuring they would have more energy for their second stint with new cars.
A seamless car changeover for Sam laid to rest the memory of Hong Kong and he exited the pits in fourth behind Rosenqvist, Vergne and Buemi. The additional pre-pit lap meant Buemi and Sam both had a significant energy advantage over the two leaders, and they proceeded to hunt first and second spots down accordingly.
An exciting final few laps then saw Sam move on Rosenqvist as superior energy reserves allowed him to catch and then overtake the Swede on lap 31. From here Sam closed the gap on leader Buemi before finishing a comfortable second. López took 10th, adding a valuable extra team championship point to Sam's tally.
Sam said: "It's great to get points on the board. There's still work to do, but getting a podium is a win in itself. Up next is tackling Sébastien Buemi. He's on his own level right now. Today there were 19 guys battling for second place - but I have some ideas as to how we can move that up in Buenos Aires."
Team Principal Alex Tai said: "An excellent result. Through Sam, we've seen the true capability of the car. We now look onwards to race three - watch this space."
Sam's podium came at Formula E's first visit to the African continent, where it showcased the future of electric transport to some of the world's leading experts on sustainability.
The race was an official partner of COP22, the 22nd session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place simultaneously in the Moroccan city.
And, as Sam lined up on the grid, he and his rivals were visited by Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, giving a tour of the fully-electric machines to key names in sustainability such as FIA President Jean Todt, Prince Albert of Monaco and the EU's Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, Miguel Arias Canete.
Earlier in the weekend DS Virgin Racing had hosted an 'innovation summit' at the team's garage, where a panel of international experts discussed electric vehicles and sustainable technology.
"We've gone to space, we've done biofuel flight and we were the first to go non-stop solo around the world. Virgin is all about making sustainability fast," said Tai.