A historical first Extreme E event in the Desert
The first ever Extreme E event is in the books! Drama, changes and a lot of dust marked the drivers' battles - with Rosberg X Racing's Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson coming home with a victory. But there is more to tell about the first ever journey for the Odyssey21 SUVs.
It was finally time for the first ever Extreme E event in the desert of Saudi Arabia. Nine teams, eighteen drivers, the world's first gender-equal racing format and a fan voting system called GridPlay to sort out the starting order of the Final race. And we went green in AlUla!
It was a challenging weekend for the series, the drivers and the teams. The shakedown was the first chance for all the racers to learn the course - and Chip Ganassi Racing was immediately struck with bad luck when Sara Price was the very first car to hit the track and stopped with a car failure. The mechanics were able to get the car ready for the second shakedown run, just as Kyle LeDuc took over and hit a rock, ripped off the side of the bodywork and damaged both tyres on the right side. The team was again forced to endure a big repair session in order to get the car ready for Quali on the next day.
The second team in Quali 1 was Rosberg X Racing, lining up Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson. Molly set a blistering lap into the sand of the desert, with Kristoffersson following with a good lap as well - which meant that the duo stayed on top of the Qualifying 1 timesheets.
Andretti Autosport's Catie Munnings completed a heroic drive to fourth place on three wheels after a puncture had ripped off her tyre mid-way through her lap, while Jenson Button and Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky were fifth, as the Swedish lady came to a stop on track and lost over 30 seconds to reset her car.
Oliver Bennett and Christine Giampaoli Zonca picked up an unfortunate time penalty for speeding in the driver-change area, after the Spanish-Italian racer had completed a solid first run; nevertheless, they still finished in sixth place and ahead of the Chip Ganassi duo of Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price.
After the repair work overnight, the #99 SEGI TV Ganassi Racing car did make it to the starting gate, but a power steering issue forced both drivers to physically wrestle their machine across the finish line.
The session was temporarily stopped when ABT Cupra XE's Claudia Hürtgen had a monumental crash in the final stages of her lap, which sent her SUV rolling over and into the air several times before coming to a halt. Hürtgen was luckily unhurt, but the damage prevented the team from entering the second Qualifying session.
It was an even tougher day for Veloce Racing: inaugural W Series champion and Williams F1 team's Development Driver Jamie Chadwick didn't even get to run a single lap after Stephane Sarrazin's roll-over crash in the morning session. Sarrazin also escaped uninjured, but the British outfit later confirmed that they will be retiring from the event following unrepairable chassis damages.
Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor were again the fastest on track in Quali 2 – with the Australian again completing a stunning run albeit not picked up by the cameras – but were later penalized by a 60-second penalty for exceeding the speed limit by 30 km/h in the switch zone.
The cars of Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen and the JBXE duo of driver-owner Jenson Button and Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky finished five hundredths of a second apart across the finish line, but a massive 3-minute penalty for a malfunctioning pit-limiter and Button leaving the driver swap area half a second too soon denied the white and yellow Brawn GP-style SUV of a fifth place after a stunning lap by Kottulinsky.
The Semi Final was a clear run for Kristoffersson after he undercut both opponents and took over the lead as Loeb and Sainz went wide. Molly Taylor kept the gap stable and finished ahead of Gutiérrez/Loeb and Sanz/Sainz. The top-two gained their way into the final - meaning Sainz and Sanz were eliminated and classified fourth overall.
It was then time for the Crazy Race - where just the winner could find a spot into the Final. Hansen had a blistering start, followed by Bennett, while Button tried to take the outside line and lost time, especially as he drove blindly behind the other's sand dust. After the second lap without a change in the teams positions, Catie Munnings crossed the finish line in front, while Christine GZ finished in second followed by Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky. This result granted Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen one of the three entries for the precious Final.
The Shoot Out wasn't televised but made headlines around the world following a big accident from Claudia Hürtgen and Kyle LeDuc - both coming from previous crashed. Having taken over from Ekström, Claudia was in front as she slowed down for a rough road crossing and LeDuc - who was recovering and had decided to attempt a pass, found himself in Claudia´s dust and had no chance to see the car in front - resulting in a big crash. Both driver were ok. Cars not.
All the eyes of the world were on the Final: it was Timmy Hansen (Andretti United) who had the best start and led off the line, but Kristoffersson went wide at the first gate and overtook Hansen using his hyperdrive boost, thus clearing the competition by the second corner. He pulled away and handed the car over to Molly Taylor - who drove magnificently to take the first ever victory in the history of Extreme E ahead of Catie Munnings/Hansen and Cristina Gutiérrez/Loeb.
“What an amazing start to the season! It feels a bit surreal, with so much anticipation and preparation leading into the weekend and we all came here not really knowing what to expect." - said Molly Taylor, former Australian rally champion and now flying the flag of Rosberg X Racing. "It was definitely extreme."
"It was the first time we had experienced terrain like that, and on every lap, the course was changing – there were so many different variables to deal with. We just wanted to make the most of the little time we had in the car – every single kilometre."
“I just don’t have the words – I’m smiling so much!" - continued the always bright Catie Munnings. "Timmy [Hansen] is my absolute hero, just a legend. His starts today have been incredible, which has made my job easy and all about bringing it home. With the puncture back at the beginning of Qualifying, who would have thought we would be here in second place now? The hard work paid off and we managed to turn our weekend around."
Cristina Gutiérrez, teammate of multiple rally champion Sebastien Loeb at Lewis Hamilton's X44 was equally happy after a strong first weekend.
“The whole weekend has been really good, and it all just came down to some bad luck in the Final with the power steering breaking. There was nothing we could do about that, so we have to be pleased to finish third."
The next Extreme E event will be the OceanXPrix, which will be contested from 29th to 30th May at Lac Rose, Dakar, Senegal.