After an epic drive in the final, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johan Kristoffersson took victory for RXR in the first Copper X Prix of the weekend, ahead of the Extreme E third season's championship decider on Sunday, which now sees the Swedish duo back ahead by 6 points.
Rosberg X Racing's duo of Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johan Kristoffersson claimed a spectacular victory in the first Copper X Prix of the weekend, as the all-electric Extreme E championship heads towards its third season finale that will crown its champions on Sunday in Antofagasta, Chile.
The all-Swedish duo managed to bounce back after a tough start of the weekend due to a crash in the first qualifying heat that also put main championship rivals Acciona Sainz on the back foot. The two teams completed Friday practice on top of the timesheets, confirming that it would be a duel for the crown despite five teams remained in contention ahead of the series' return to South America.
The Antofagasta region in Chile, one of the driest in the world, hosts the Copper X Prix double header which is set to wrap up the Extreme E season, in one of the closest championship battles ever: Acciona Sainz's duo of Laia Sanz and Mattias Ekstrom led by the smallest margin after their win at the latest Sardina Island X Prix. Just behind them, RXR's Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johan Kristoffersson proved to be just as fast after practice, while title hopefuls X44, Veloce Racing and GMC Hummer EV Chip Ganassi Racing all ran in the tpo six on Friday.
"Anything can happen in Chile, but we will aim to be as strong as possible and stay away from trouble. The margins are so narrow that whoever wins this event will take the championship", commented Laia Sanz ahead of the first race day.
The season's climax on one of the widest courses of the season, though, was all all but drama-free and would see plenty of twists and turns.
Hansen put the Veloce ahead of everyone at the start of the first qualifying run, leading RXR and Acciona Sainz - but there was early drama as Kristoffersson collided with Foust and then with championship rival Ekstrom and damaged the left rear. The Acciona SUV also slowed down and came to a halt, in a disastrous start for both. Hansen led Foust (McLaren) and Bakkerud (JBXE), when the slow zone was deployed.
At the drivers' switch, Molly Taylor took over from the lead, ahead of Hedda Hosås and Tamara Molinaro, while RXR and Acciona Sainz had more troubled pit stops for repairs. Kristofferson, who had pitted one lap earlier with the puncture, tried to make it to the end with the Spanish team's DNF.
Molinaro closed in on Hosås - who also received a 10 second penalty for her teammate's collision with RXR on the first lap. Molly Taylor took the win in heat 1, ahead of Molinaro and Hosås, while Åhlin-Kottulinsky still made it across the line in fourth.
Timo Scheider (Carl Cox) had the best start in the second heat, while Andretti, X44, Andretti and ABT Cupra all fought closely for the runner up position. Hansen emerged as the closest pursuer and then started to put pressure on Scheider - in a four-way battle that saw Scheider, Hansen, McConnell and Anderson separated by less than a second throughout the first lap. Anderson, though, rolled and was out of the heat, although unharmed.
At the driver change, newly-announced F1 Academy driver Lia Block led Catie Munnings and Cristina Gutierrez; the latter had a stellar recovery and took the lead with a great pass on Munnings, after Block had dropped down to fourth, behind Klara Andersson.
The rallycross star, though, made a mistake at the very final corner and went deep, allowing Lia Block back past for third place right across the finish line. Gutierrez took the win in heat 2 for X44, after a perfect start to her weekend.
The female drivers were behind the wheel for the first heat of the second quali runs: with Acciona Sainz going against ABT Cupra, Veloce, Andretti and McLaren.
Molly Taylor had the best start from the central line, but a huge crash for Klara Andersson brought out the red flag at turn 1, where the Cupra SUV rolled multiple times after being hit by the McLaren Odyssey21. The Swede luckily emerged unscathed.
The restart saw almost a replay of the first one, with Taylor taking the lead from Sanz and Munnings. The Australian, though, suffered a front right suspension failure and, as she slowed down, the Veloce Racing's SUV was collected at speed by Catie Munnings, whose machine was destroyed in another massive rollover crash that triggered another red flag.
Laia Sanz, who was initially out from Q1, was then able to drive away at the second restart, pulling a gap on the likely wounded McLaren SUV of Hedda Hosås. After the driver changes, Acciona Sainz took the win from McLaren in an uneventful second part of the heat. While the winner received a 15 second penalty for improper use of the hyperdrive, a penalty for McLaren following the crash at the start with ABT Cupra left positions unchanged.
After the Q1 disappointment, Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johan Kristoffersson had to make up for it in the second qualifying, where they went up against JBXE, X44, Ganassi and Carl Cox.
Like in the first heat, all female racers took the start and Gutierrez emerged in the lead after the first corner, after Lia Block took the outside line and lost out also to Åhlin-Kottulinsky.
Cristina and Mikaela opened a small gap to their rivals, but Williams Academy driver Block followed not far behind. Gutierrez brought the car back in the lead at the switch zone, while Block was so late on the brakes at the final corner that fully closed the gap just ahead of the driver change. Molinaro and Sorensen were over 10 seconds down the road.
McConnell and Kristoffersson took over - and it was a two-way battle for the top spot, with both drivers trying all different lines. Six-time rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson eventually found a way through and held on to win their heat, turning the tables after a tough start of the weekend, gaining access to the grand final.
With second place in Q2 and a heat win in Q1, X44 led the points after qualifying, and would get access to the final together with Veloce Racing, RXR, McLaren and Acciona Sainz. Despite a great effort by Lia Block, Carl Cox would have to battle for glory in the Redemption Race.
Only three cars fought for the Redemption Race, after the crashed ABT Cupra and Andretti cars were out for damages. Timo Scheider took the early lead in the Carlo Cox Odyssey21, with JBXE following in second before a technical issue slowed down Bakkerud, as Anderson was up to second.
At the driver change, Lia Block had a 9 second lead at the switch zone from Amanda Sorensen, in an all-American battle for the Redemption Race win.
Carl Cox slightly extended its lead after the switch, with Block chipping away from Sorensen. Once behind the wheel of the JBWE SUV, Tamara Molinaro just focused on getting the car across the line, over a minute and a half behind.
Lia Block took victory for Carl Cox Motorsport, 15 seconds ahead of Ganassi's Amanda Sorensen.
Acciona Sanz, McLaren, Veloce, X44 and RXR were up against each other for the first final of the Chilean weekend. All male drivers were behind the wheel for the opening stint and the two main championship rivals Ekstrom and Kristoffersson went head to head at the start, followed by X44's McConnell and McLaren's Foust, while the Veloce car hit trouble and came to a halt.
Kristoffersson trialled Ektrom by a handful of tenths, before they entered the switch zone half-way through the race exactly side by side, with X44 also in the fight. Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky was quicker at the restart and pulled out of the switch box just in front of Laia Sanz, as the Spaniard now had to recover.
In one of the most closely fought races, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky defended hard but just about held on and crossed the line 0.35 of a second in an epic race which briefly also saw Cristina Gutierrez trying to find her way past the Acciona Sainz team. With the fastest Continental Traction Challenge time, RXR also bagged the extra point.
Åhlin-Kottulinsky secured her third win of the season - and fifth in the championship - in one of the most exciting Extreme E races of the season. The Swede has now reclaimed the championship lead by 6 points with one round to go.
“I just tried to keep it tidy and keep Laia [Sanz] behind, but it was tight racing", Mikaela said. "Johan had a great start, and it was a great team effort. It’s really great to be taking home the win. We're thrilled to be leading the championship and are looking forward to carrying this momentum into the next race.”
Cristina Gutierrez and Fraser McConnell were third for X44 and rounded out the podium, preceding McLaren's Hedda Hosås, at her first race in Papaya colours.
Veloce's DNF means that the third-placed team in the standings dropped out of contention for the championship battle.
Tomorrow's Round 8 will in fact assign the 2023 crown: it would be both Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Laia Sanz's first Extreme E championship title, as they aim to succeed Molly Taylor and Cristina Gutierrez as the series' female champions.