Gutierrez leads Desert XPrix quali day, kicks off second Extreme E season
Extreme E is back in Saudi for the second Desert XPrix, with a few changes to its format. What did not change is X44 drivers Cristina Gutiérrez and Sébastien Loeb finishing the Qualifying as leaders after day 1 on the new NEOM track. Here's what happened.
The first ever Extreme E season was about overcoming the inherent challenges of a new series, in remote areas. It underwent many changes and made significant progress from race to race. Two months after its last race of the 2021 season, it's already time to start the second electric journey for the Odyssey21 SUVs - again racing for the planet and with its revolutionary gender-equal format of male-female mixed teams.
Rosberg X Racing snatched the title in 2021, with Molly Taylor and Johann Kristoffersson. But the off-season brought many changes.
Teams & Drivers
The nine teams remained - and one new outfit joined the grid: we now have ten contenders to battle out for the 2022 crown. The new entry is the orange McLaren team, with Emma Gilmour and Tanner Foust. Several teams confirmed their inaugural line ups; among them Acconia Sainz XE Team (Laia Sanz/Carlos Sainz), Genesys Andretti United Extreme E (Catie Munnings/Timmy Hansen), SEGI TV Chip Ganassi Racing (Sara Price/Kyle LeDuc) and X44 (Cristina Gutiérrez/Sébatien Loeb) - who will continue with their driver pairings.
ABT Cupra XE returns with a new driver; German Dakar legend Jutta Kleinschmidt will partner fellow Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah. JBXE Racing were the latest to announce their driver line up, bringing Kevin Hansen and Molly Taylor to Saudi. 2021 Champion Taylor is just announced for the first XPrix so far. Team's champions Rosberg X Racing also announced a surprise new line up, with the super fast Swede Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky partnering compatriot Johann Kristoffersson.
An all-new pairing for Veloce Racing will see Christine "GZ" Giampaoli Zonca and Lance Woolridge - the latter having raced for the team in a one-off in Dorset last year. Last but not least, Xite Energy Racing lines up rallycross star Klara Andersson together with Oliver Bennett. Due a positive Covid test, unfortunately, Andersson will not be able to make her debut in Saudi and is being replaced at Round 1 by the Extreme E championship driver Tamara Molinaro.
The qualifying rounds will be replaced by heat races - with two 5 car-battles that will gain the teams qualifying points for the weekend overall tally.
The Q1 and Q2 heats now shape the order for the Semi-Finals: the two Semi-Final rounds and the Crazy Race will work exactly like in the inaugural season, as teams either advance to the Final or drop out of the race.
Points for the weekend are awarded from the qualifying heat runs until the final, with championship points then awarded at the end of the event for the point standings.
Race Day 1
It was a dramatic first day of racing at NEOM, with a new glimpse of the new format, broken cars, a roll-over crash - and once again the X44 leadership at the end of the first day. But it's tomorrow that counts, when the full amount of points will be awarded in the desert of Saudi Arabia. Ahead of the Desert XPrix, the series decided to alter the qualifying format that was about to make its debut; Q1 therefore returned to be a timed-lap session, just like in 2021. The fastest duo after the first outing was the Rosberg X Racing drivers: Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Kristoffersson set a total time of 9:03:604 minutes - which meant they were 10 seconds faster than X44 in second place. Lewis Hamilton's team would receive a 5-second penalty, as Cristina Gutiérrez mis-parked the Odyssey21 SUV during the driver switch. Veloce driver Christine GZ was about to set the fastest lap overall - until a huge crash saw the Spaniard rolling over. The red flag was quickly out and Christine could get out of the badly damaged Veloce car. After assessment at the medical centre, Giampaoli Zonca was transferred to a local hospital for further examination and she was diagnosed with a broken left ankle.
"Absolutely gutted. Just a broken foot and a little sore, so all good on my side, but I’m really sorry for my team that deserved that result so much."
Veloce Racing was able to fix the car in time with the help of Chip Ganassi, it will be reserve driver Hedda Hosås to take over the wheel and make her Extreme E debut. There was bad luck also for Molly Taylor, who battled a driveshaft failure and finished ninth, over a minute adrift of the RXR duo. The second qualifying heat saw the new format being introduced as planned, with two 5-car heats. X44, Chip Ganassi Racing, Acciona Sainz and ABT Cupra battled out in the first one. Loeb (X44) and Sainz (Acciona) had the best start, followed by Al-Attiyah (ABT). As the Qatari driver tried to pass Sainz, the ABT driver missed the gate and slid into Sainz, resulting in a double retirement once the cars returned to the switch zone. ABT received a penalty for the accident. With no pressure, Cristina Gutiérrez won for X44, ahead of the Chip Ganassi drivers. The second heat of the Q2 was a battle between Andretti United, McLaren, Rosberg X Racing and JBXE. Veloce Racing missed the heat due to the early accident of Christine GZ. Timmy Hansen (Andretti) was fastest at the start, ahead of Foust (McLaren). The latter tried different lines in order to get ahead, but once they reached the switch zone, Hansen was still leading. Catie Munnings got behind the wheel of the Andretti United SUV and was the first out of the switch zone, followed by Johan Kristoffersson (RXR) and McLaren's Emma Gimour, who had problems restarting the powertrain of the orange Odyssey21. Kristoffersson was on the hunt: he managed to recover a 14 second gap to Munnings, passed her and crossed the finish line in first - but they would receive a 17 second penalty for a driver change infringement that dropped them back to fourth place. "We managed great pace in Q2, but some technical issues with the car resulted in overspeed during the switch and unfortunately a penalty", said Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky. "But tomorrow is the big day and we will give it all we got for those championship points!" Team X44 was again the fastest team after Day 1 - in a record breaking streak that continues since the 2021 first round. As the top qualifier, they now hold the championship leading position ahead of the race day on Sunday.
“We always enjoy qualifying but this was a new kind of way to race from last season so it was difficult to know how it would be, but we finished well and we’re feeling good about tomorrow. The other teams were strong today so it will be interesting to see what happens when the track is dry and there is more dust. I think it will be a challenge but I’m excited to race!” Both the Semi Finals and the crazy awaits tomorrow morning - before the Final will crown the first winners of the 2022 season.