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Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky picks up where she left off and claims victory in Extreme E season opener

Reigning champions Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and RXR's teammate Johan Kristoffersson picked up where they left off and scored a convincing victory in the Extreme E season opener in Saudi after an epic final against McLaren's Cristina Gutierrez.

Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, RXR, Extreme E 2024
Photo credits: Andrew Ferraro / Extreme E

Barely two months after the end of the third ever Extreme E season, the old and new teams gathered again in Saudi Arabia - where the series has traditionally hosted the season opener - to launch the fourth and last season of competitions for the all-electric off road championship.

From 2025, in fact, the series will undergo significant changes - starting from its name: Extreme H will become the first global championship to explore different technologies that will make it the world-first hydrogen-powered world championship.

These changes inevitably resulted in teams re-arranging their priorities: X44, GMC Hummer Chip Ganassi Racing and ABT Cupra left the series, while Carl Cox Motorsport announced they would pull out of the 2024 season to focus on the new technical challenges of 2025. Nevertheless, new teams joined the field: SUN Minimeal Team and Legacy Motor Club entered the Extreme E family, with some familiar and some new faces behind the wheel.

The championship retaines its trademark feature of fielding one male driver and one female driver each team; Saudi off-road veteran and Dakar expert Dania Akeel joins Andreas Bakkerud at JBXE, while new all-America outfit Legacy Motor Club - founded by NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson - will line up Travis Pastrana and 19-year-old rookie Gray Leadbetter.

After a spectacular season finale in Chile last December, new series champions Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johan Kristoffersson continue to share the wheel at Rosberg X Racing; their main rivals Acciona Sainz return, this time with Laia Sanz alongside Fraser McConnell, previously at X44. Season 2's champion Cristina Gutierrez joined NEON McLaren - also fresh off her first historic victory at the Dakar Rally. She will partner Mattias Ekstrom.

Andretti Altawkilat and E.ON Veloce Racing return with two unchanged driver line-ups, featuring Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings, and Kevin Hansen and Molly Taylor respectively. Former championship driver Timo Scheider acts as both driver and team manager of new team SUN Minimeal Team - who joined forces with Swedish rallycross star Klara Andersson, previously at ABT Cupra.

The sandy and rocky terrain of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, plays host to the first double header, with qualifying and first race scheduled on Saturday - and an identical racing program on Sunday. With the altered number of entries, the race format was also slightly adapted: four cars will compete in each qualifying heat, and the combined qualifying results of Q1 and Q2 will see the top four qualifying for the final. The remaining four teams will contest the Redemption Race - which will award the same amount of points to the winner as the fourth-placed car in the final.

The first day of action saw Acciona Sainz topping the timesheets in both the free practice sessions on Friday, preceding RXR and Andretti after the first runs in the Saudi desert. But it would be the qualifying heats to decide who will ultimately compete for the first X Prix victory of the year.

Laia Sanz, Acciona Sainz, Extreme E 2024
Photo credits: Sam Bagnall / Extreme E

The first heat of qualifying saw McLaren picking the inside line, going up against Veloce, SUN Minimeal and JBXE. It would be Kevin Hansen to lead for Veloce after the first corner, followed by Ekstrom, Bakkerud and Andersson - who was the only driver not to use the hyperdrive in the first metres after the start.

Positions settled over the first lap, as Andersson closed in on the JBXE SUV of Bakkerud. Klara deployed the hyperdrive and overtook Bakkerud, but Jenson Button's team was back ahead at the driver swap. Molly Taylor was the first out of the Switch Zone - now preceding Cristina Gutierrez, Timo Scheider and Dania Akeel. Season 1 champion Taylor managed the gap and, although Gutierrez closed in on the final lap, the Australian took victory in the first heat.

2023 championship contenders Acciona Sainz and RXR took to the course in the second qualifying run, which also saw new team Legacy Motor Club - with rookie driver Leadbetter behind the wheel - and Andretti Altawkilat. An issue for the Andretti car caused a delay, but the race was finally underway with all four cars getting away.

Munnings and Kristoffersson went side by side, before the Swede grabbed the top spot - despite gaps remaining minimal through the first lap. Sanz chased Munnings, but the Spaniard wasn't close enough to attempt a pass before the driver change. Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky drove away in the lead and was in control of the race for the whole time, as Hansen and McConnell couldn't close in enough to threaten the leader. Travis Pastrana set the fastest sector time - on his Extreme E first ever outing - to gain extra points.

Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, RXR, Extreme E 2024
Photo credits: Alastair Staley / Extreme E

McConnell had the best start off the line, having turned just ahead of Molly Taylor and Travis Pastrana - as the latter moved up to second one corner later and chased the Acciona Sainz SUV while Taylor and Dania Akeel followed. McConnell and Pastrana switched over to their teammates separated by a little over 2 seconds; Laia Sanz and Leadbetter took over and the more experienced Spaniard drove away.

Molly Taylor held third comfortably before Hansen took over and hunted down Leadbetter. The Veloce driver completed a great pass around over the Legacy SUV and snatched second, but Laia Sanz was already six seconds up the road and she took the win in the first heat, ahead of Veloce, Legacy and JBXE.

Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Scheider fought wheel to wheel for the lead coming into turn 1, and it would be the new Sun Minimeal Team to have the upper hand, as Andretti's Hansen also slotted in between Scheider and reigning-champion Åhlin-Kottulinsky. Gutierrez also tried to put pressure on the Swede, as all three Odyssey21 cars ran close to each other through the first lap. Hansesn forced his way past Scheider - and all four cars pitted for the driver switch separated by the smallest of margins.

Catie Munnings was the first out of the switch zone - followed by Johan Kristoffersson, who went past soon later, followed by Ekstrom's McLaren. RXR took a double heat win in Q2 and preceded McLaren, Andretti and SUN Minimeal, as Andersson drove to the finish line with a recurring technical issue.

At the end of the Qualifying runs, Johan Kristoffersson and Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky topped the classification to advance into the Final. Veloce and Acciona Sainz took a heat win each and also made it through - and were joined in the top four by NEOM McLaren.

Andretti Altawkilat, SUN Minimeal, Legacy Motor Club and JBXE would have to fight for the remaining points in the Redemption Race.

Molly Taylor, Veloce Racing, Extreme E 2024
Photo credits: Alastair Staley / Extreme E

Munnings fired into the lead of the Redemption Race after using the hyperdrive first, and cleared JBXE's Bakkerud and Legacy and SUN Minimeal drivers Leadbetter and Andersson. Klara continued to apply pressure on the young American rookie, who drove clean and defended.

With a big first lap, Catie Munnings led by 4 seconds and brought the car back to the switch zone for Hansen to take over with a healthy gap. Dania Akeel rejoined in second place and kept position as Pastrana and Scheider fought behind. The Sun Minimeal driver eventually had to pull off course with a technical issue.

Pastrana caught Akeel on the final lap and completed a pass around the outside to take second - but the Redemption Race victory went to Andretti Altawkilat, following a stellar run for both Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings, who had built the gap over the first lap.

Catie Munnings, Andretti Altawkilat, Extreme E 2024
Photo credits: Andrew Ferraro / Extreme E

Most of the qualified teams for the final picked their male driver for the start, except for Acciona Sainz, whose Laia Sanz went up against her male colleagues as the lights went out. Kristoffersson had a great start but Mathias Ekstrom was the star of the first corner as the new McLaren driver went all the way through the outside and cut back to take the early lead. Not far behind, the Veloce SUV tried to keep up with the leading duo, but the battle for the top spot was a matter of Ekstrom versus Kristoffersson throughout the first lap.

The reigning champion didn't crack under pressure and made it to the switch zone in the lead. Only 6 seconds behind, Laia Sanz had also kept touch with the rest of the pack ahead of the driver change.

The win of the first X Prix of the season was now in the hands of the female drivers: Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Cristina Gutierrez got back out separated by three tenths of a second, while Veloce's pitstop was slightly delayed. As they fought for the lead, the McLaren SUV made contact with the RXR machine - and Molly Taylor was also closing in.

Gutierrez attempted different lines and found a way past on the final lap - just as a pass for third went wrong for Fraser McConnell whose Acciona Sainz machine ended upside down. Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky responded a few corners later and, in a superb and action-packed final, she took victory in the first race of the year for Rosberg X Racing.

“Starting this season with a win feels incredible" - Åhlin-Kottulinsky said. "Johan handed over the car in a good position, but the competition was intense - especially my battle with Cristina. I was very happy to make the overtake and take the win.”

Cristina Gutierrez and Matias Ekstrom were second for McLaren, and Molly Taylor and Kevin Hansen took third.

“I’m feeling happy after today's race with the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team", said Gutierrez. "It was my first race with the team and working with Mattias, and we managed to finish in P2. We were able to put together a good performance in Qualifying and get to the Grand Final."

"It was a shame not to be able to bring home the win, but I think we will be competitive this season."

With several teams proving to be in the fight for the win, drivers will have another chance as soon as tomorrow, in the second Desert X Prix.

Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, RXR, Extreme E 2024
Photo credits: Andrew Ferraro / Extreme E



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