Molly Taylor takes inaugural Extreme E title
The inaugural Extreme E championship battle went down to the wire: Cristina Gutiérrez and Sebastien Loeb took the race win in the Jurassic X Prix, but fourth place was enough for Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson to claim the crown for RXR.
Championship contenders Team X44 and Rosberg X Racing won their respective Semi Finals on Sunday morning, as they prepared for the highly anticipated final showdown in the early afternoon. Spaniard Cristina Gutiérrez – sharing the X44 electric SUV with rally legend Sebastien Loeb – topped all qualifying sessions this season, but the duo had a few more troubles in the races, as they could only score a third place in the opening race in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson (RXR) were very consistent throughout the year and took victories in three occasions - Saudi Arabia,m Senegal and Sardinia – only leaving the top step of the podium to Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen (Andretti United) at the Arctic X Prix in Greenland. On the muddy 3.8 km course of Dorset, UK, Lewis Hamilton's outfit showed great speed all weekend and entered the Final race with high hopes, despite necessarily having to score victory and the fastest sector in order to claim the extra 5 points of the Continental Traction Challenge. Taylor and Kristoffersson, on the other hand, had safely won their Semi Final against Acciona Sainz and Abt Cupra, and knew all they had to do was to bring the Odyssey21 across the finish line in fourth place or higher to seal the title. The short nature of the track in Dorset meant that the race distance was extended to three laps instead of two, with the starting driver now having to complete 2 laps before the driver change. According to a new rule, the order of the male and female driver would now be decided by the series and the female racers – who completed the second stint in the Semi Finals – lined up on the starting grid for the Final. Team X44 had won the GridPlay vote of the public, so had the opportunity to choose their starting position. Gutiérrez and Loeb went for the mid lane, avoiding the big puddles on the left and right sides. Right alongside Gutiérrez it was Molly Taylor.
When the lights went out for the final time in 2021, Cristina Gutiérrez had the perfect getaway and pulled into the lead, followed by Molly Taylor, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Catie Munnings – the latter having gained her entry into the final by winning the Crazy Race shootout. Laia Sanz (Acciona Sainz) was slower off the line and rounded out the pack after the first corner.
Åhlin-Kottulinsky was on a charge and soon attacked Taylor – but got out of a corner completely sideways and almost rolled. With an outstanding save, though, the Swede managed to rejoin the track quickly and immediately recovered the position on Catie Munnings (Andretti United).
Cristina Gutiérrez was unchallenged and pulled away, while behind her Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky was once again very aggressive on Molly Taylor and overtook the championship leader in spectacular fashion at the jump.
Munnings took a different path and passed Taylor in the final sector, as the Australian also came under pressure from Laia Sanz - but knew she had to defend fourth place.
After one lap, Gutierrez led by over 3.5 seconds on Åhlin-Kottulinsky, who was battling with the returning Catie Munnings.
Right before the driver change, Munnings attacked Kottulinsky – the two made contact which spun the Brit around at the switch zone entry. She rejoined without issues, despite having lost a few seconds.
Sebastien Loeb got behind the wheel of the X44 vehicle and resumed the race right ahead of Kevin Hansen (JBXE), but would soon open a safe gap of approximately 4 seconds.
Molly Taylor handed over to Johan Kristoffersson, who rejoined in fourth place and started to close in on Timmy Hansen.
Kristoffersson managed to beat Rosberg X Racing's time in the Super Sector, but could not strip Sebastien Loeb's time in the Semi Final that still granted X44 the extra 5 points.
Loeb crossed the line to take X44's first win of the season, but Taylor/Kristoffersson finishing fourth meant that the inaugural Extreme E title went in the hands of the German team.
“It feels amazing to be the first-ever championship winners of Extreme E." – stated newly-crowned champion Taylor, already multiple title-winning driver in rallies and with three WRC starts in 2021.
"This season has been brutal, racing in some of the most remote parts of the world in truly extreme conditions but we’ve worked together as a team and we’re delighted with this result." – she added. "The nerves were definitely there today but Johan [Kristoffersson] and I kept our eyes on the final prize, and the whole team effort across many months has brought us to this point today.” Just 10 points adrift after five very competitive rounds, Cristina Gutiérrez had a great season and once again proved to be one of the leading female drivers in rallying/offroad. “I am so happy - finally we have won an X Prix!" – said Gutiérrez. "I’m very proud of Seb [Loeb] and everyone in the team. It has been a tough year, but they all worked really hard and today it paid off."
“A first place race finish and second in the championship is amazing, and of course congratulations to RXR for such a great season. I can’t wait to come back next year and see what else we can do!” The second-placed JBXE duo claimed their fourth podium of the season, which handed Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky third place in the championship standings. “It is incredible that we have been on the podium in the last four rounds", said the Swede after the race. "I want to say thank you to the team because we have been making a step forward at each round and that has brought us here. I did teach Kevin [Hansen] to drift on ice when he was about 13 and that was key to this year!"
“It is all about details when it comes to performance and since we speak the same language we can get those nailed and we work together really well.” Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen were third at the Jurassic X Prix and brilliantly recovered from an accident in Qualifying when Hansen hit a tree - and the Andretti United squad finished fourth in the championship, just 2 points behind JBXE. “It was a crazy Final", added Munnings. "The visibility was quite poor on the course. I got pushed a couple of times, and coming into the Switch Zone I kind of had the line and was then pushed into the ditch, which was really disappointing when we were fighting for third in the Championship."
“But it was always going to be a crazy race with the amount of water and mud here, and actually following one of those cars you realise how fast it is and how on the limit we all are.” Abt Cupra (Jutta Kleinschmidt / Mattias Ekström) and Acciona Sainz (Laia Sanz / Carlos Sainz Sr.) finished level on points, following an often unlucky season marked by a few technical issues and accidents. Veloce Racing, SEGI TV Chip Ganassi Racing and XITE Energy Racing did not qualify to the Jurassic X Prix final and rounded out the classify, finishing seventh, eighth and ninth respectively. The 2022 Extreme E championship will return in a few months' time, with the Saudi round scheduled for 19-20 February 2022. Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen will return for Andretti United, and Emma Gilmour – who competed in two rounds for Veloce this year – will be the female driver for the new McLaren Extreme E team. Remaining line-ups are expected to be announced in January.