Gunther wins virtual Hong Kong FE race, Vandoorne crashes

Matt Kew

Vandoorne, who had finished second to Gunther in the pre-season race in Monaco last weekend, snared pole by just 0.098 seconds over Esports debutant Pascal Wehrlein.

The Mercedes driver enjoyed a strong launch to lead into Turn 1 and held a 0.8s advantage at the end of the first lap.

But he crashed halfway through the second tour to fall as low as sixth before quickly recovering past Oliver Turvey.

That left Gunther to inherit the lead and sustain it to an eventual 2.2s victory over Envision Virgin Racing substitute Nick Cassidy - who deputised for Sam Bird.

With Bird the only absentee, owing to home internet issues, 23 of the 24 FE drivers contested the race, and Bird is expected to participate in the next round. 

BMW driver Gunther's only scare came at the first corner, which was prompted by Wehrlein’s lunge down the inside of the hairpin.

That forced Gunther to run wide and he momentarily fell to fourth as Cassidy also claimed a position.

But the wide line allowed Gunther to get a strong run down the following straight and he out-dragged the pair to reclaim second, which would then become first.

Mahindra racer Wehrlein ended his sim racing bow in an impressive third over second Envision driver Robin Frijns, who climbed three places from seventh in qualifying.

Vandoorne struggled to make progress and so crossed the line in fifth ahead of Oliver Rowland and the NIO 333 of Oliver Turvey.

Felipe Massa celebrated his 39th birthday with eighth place ahead of the second Mahindra of Jerome d’Ambrosio.

Alexander Sims in 10th assured BMW of a double points finish, while Ma Quingha and Neel Jani rounded out the top 12.

With the damage level increased from 25% to 80% for the first champion race, Andre Lotterer and James Calado both retired early with car trouble.

Reigning FE champion Jean-Eric Vergne had been in third during the early stages but disconnected from the session to rank 22nd ahead of Nyck de Vries.

Audi driver Lucas di Grassi did not start the race owing to connection issues also.