Extreme E: X44 and RXR win semi-finals, Andretti United goes through in Crazy Race
After closely-fought Semi Finals, title contenders Cristina Gutierrez (X44) and Molly Taylor (RXR) won their respective heats and will battle out for the inaugural Extreme E title. Catie Munnings (Andretti United) makes it through the Crazy Race.
Saturday in Dorset saw one of the closest Qualifying to date for Extreme E, as the all-electric offroad championship closes in on its exciting title showdown.
Cristina Gutiérrez and Sebastien Loeb (Team X44) topped the timing sheets for the fifth time out of five rounds, with championship leaders Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson (RXR) rounding out the day second in the combined lap time classification.
Jenson Button's JBXE team also had a very solid qualifying, with Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Timmy Hansen were second in Q2 and joined X44 and Veloce Racing in the first Semi Final.
After the addition of a new rule that mandates the start of male/female drivers in each session, with males starting in Q1 and females in Q2, the male drivers were thus set to take the start in the Semi Finals. The new rule effectively taking out a strategy variable from teams is due to the shorter course, which requires three laps instead of two. The starting driver will pull into the switch area after two laps, leaving his/her teammate to a one lap stint to the finish line.
Sebastien Loeb, Timmy Hansen and Lance Woolridge lined up on the grid for the first Semi Final; the South African driver stepped in this weekend for Stephane Sarrazin and shared the Veloce Racing's Odyssey21 with returnee Jamie Chadwick, who had missed the previous two rounds due to clashing commitments with W Series.
Loeb initially had the best getaway, but Kevin Hansen (JBXE) crucially managed to get ahead by deploying his hyperdrive. A few corners into the race, Woolridge spun and lost over 10 seconds, forcing the series rookie to an impressive recovery. He in fact closed the gap with two outstanding laps and the three drivers pulled into the switch zone practically on each other's tails.
Rally legend Sebastien Loeb, though, signed the fastest sector that would potentially hand
Team X44 5 extra points for the Continental Traction Challenge.
After a perfect stop, Lewis Hamilton's outfit made it into the lead by a fraction of a second over JBXE and Cristina Gutiérrez started her lap just ahead of Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky. Jamie Chadwick was just behind, three seconds adrift.
Gutiérrez and Åhlin-Kottulinsky pulled away and continued to battle until the very final metres, but it was the Spaniard to take victory in Semi Final 1. With second place, JBXE also advanced into the final.
In another action-packed Semi Final 2, Acciona Sainz, Rosberg X Racing and Abt Cupra battled out for the other two spots in the final.
Johan Kristoffersson (RXR) had a great launch in the very tricky and muddy start area, followed by Mattias Ekström and Carlos Sainz Sr. Despite a slower getaway, Sainz managed to get into second place at the first corner - but the two made contact and both the Acciona Sainz and Abt Cupra teams picked up significant bodywork damage.
Ekström fought back and deployed his hyperdrive – but Sainz defended. Over the crest, the Abt Cupra SUV lost large part of the front bodywork and then strated to drop down before the driver change.
Sainz closed in on Kristoffersson in the later stages of the second lap and the two teams pulled in the switch zone at the same time. Molly Taylor and Laia Sanz got behind the wheel and, soon, the Australian opened a gap in the lead.
With Jutta Kleinschmidt losing almost 2 minutes at the driver change, Sanz – safely in second place – avoided unnecessary risks and took a comfortable second place, behind the always impressive Molly Taylor.
Rosberg X Racing's duo missed the Continental Traction Challenge fastest sector which could potentially reveal costly in the championship battle, but will have their sights on the victory in the Final to seal the title.
The fifth and last place in the Final went to Andretti United after taking victory in the Crazy Race. Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen missed the entry in the top-6 in qualifying after Hansen hit a tree and lost over 20 seconds in Q2, forcing the pair to some extra work in the Crazy Race shootout against XITE Energy Racing's Christine GZ and Oliver Bennett and SEGI TV Chip Ganassi Racing's Sara Price and Kyle LeDuc.
The American duo were against the most unlucky team on Saturday, as LeDuc battled with a power-steering issue that relegated them to the bottom of the timing sheets.
At the start of the Crazy Race, Hansen took the lead and never looked back, while LeDuc overtook Bennett in the early stages.
After the driver change, Sara Price had another outstanding performance and chased down Munnings, but was unable to find a way past the Brit, who won by the smallest margin and thus secured the last place on the Final.
Unfortunately, Sara Price and Christine GZ complete their debut season in Extreme E, with not enough chances to prove their potential and will hopefully be back in 2022 for more.
With 20 points separating the two title contenders, the inaugural Extreme E champions will be crowned on Sunday afternoon, after what is expected to be a thrilling Finale.
Live coverage of the event starts at 12:00 local, 1pm CET.
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