Extreme E debuts in the high-speed 8.8km track layout in the heart of Saudi Arabian desert and the best in qualy has been the Team X44.
The layout has been winded its way spectacularly between canyons, through ravines, across deep sand dunes and punctuated by 33 waypoints, the rock-strewn course was bumpy and undulating in equal measure, with steep climbs offset by ‘The Drop’ – a 100m, 45-degree descent likened by some competitors to tackling a black ski run. For almost everybody, it represented a journey into the unknown – and it produced some memorable action.
Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Extreme E, said:
I think the first day of Extreme E has been absolutely fantastic. I have been blown away by the action and the images – there was just so much to look at. It was even better than we expected, and the feedback on social media has been amazing – and this was only Qualifying! I really think we are onto something huge here.
Lewis Hamilton’s X44 team ended the day at the summit of the standings following a stirring duel against Nico Rosberg’s eponymous Rosberg X Racing outfit, as the two Formula 1 World Champions renewed battle in the desert dunes and mere fractions-of-a-second separated the leading drivers.
Three-time FIA World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson and former Australian Rally Champion Molly Taylor combined to set the pace in the first Qualifying session, with the former showcasing his effortlessly smooth style and the latter demonstrating her famed car control as she artfully held on to a wild ‘bucking bronco’ moment along the way.
The Swedish/Australian pairing again posted the fastest time in Q2 – stopping the clock just under five seconds quicker than their X44 rivals – but a 60-second penalty for exceeding the 30km/h speed limit in the driver switch zone would cost them the top spot.
That elevated Loeb and Gutiérrez to the head of the overnight order. The French nine-time FIA World Rally Champion recovered well from an early error that required him to gather up a slide after hitting a dip, while his team-mate – the first female Spanish driver to finish the legendary Dakar Rally in the car category – increasingly hustled the Odyssey 21 as the day progressed.
Two-time FIA World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz might be the oldest driver in the field, but there was no lack of commitment from the 58-year-old on his first representative run for the Acciona | Sainz XE Team following a power steering pump failure during yesterday’s shakedown. The Spaniard impressively pegged Loeb throughout Q2, as his team-mate Laia Sanz – a 13-time Women’s Trial World Champion – demonstrated her rapid learning abilities on four wheels to secure second place for the squad.
Rosberg X Racing did enough to hold onto third spot overall once the penalty had been applied, seeing Kristoffersson and Taylor safely through to tomorrow’s main Semi-Final.
Andretti United was similarly right on the front-running pace, but a puncture in Q1 cost the team time and prompted a heroic effort from Catie Munnings, who completed much of her lap with the car crabbing as the right-rear tyre dangled precariously off its rim. That restricted the Briton and Swedish team-mate Timmy Hansen to fourth overall and means they will need to navigate their way successfully through tomorrow’s ‘Crazy Race’ if they are to reach the Final.
They will be joined in the Crazy Race by Hispano Suiza XITE Energy Team (Oliver Bennett / Christine Giampaoli Zonca) and JBXE (Jenson Button / Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky), neither of whom had trouble-free days. The former picked up a 75-second penalty for speeding in the driver switch zone, while the latter lost time with a brief on-course stoppage after hitting a bump in Q1.
A promising run for Button and Åhlin-Kottulinsky in Q2 was then undone by penalties totalling just shy of three minutes for a switch zone infraction and speeding, although the 2009 F1 World Champion’s team was dealt a get-out-of-jail-free card by even greater problems for three of their adversaries.
Following a difficult Friday, Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing’s woes continued into today in Saudi Arabia, with a power steering issue requiring Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price to physically wrestle their Odyssey 21 to the end of Q1 – a situation that the former described as ‘a fist fight’ inside the cockpit. Further gremlins then prevented Price from even reaching the start-line in Q2, meaning she and LeDuc will be restricted to the ‘Shoot Out’ tomorrow.
Other teams in the wars were ABT Cupra XE – whose female driver Claudia Hürtgen thankfully emerged unharmed from a sizeable barrel-roll almost within sight of the Q1 finish line – and Veloce Racing, with Stéphane Sarrazin’s roll enough to rule the British outfit out of the remainder of the weekend.
Sunday’s racing will get underway at 09h00 local time, with the Shoot Out, Crazy Race, Semi-Final and Final (13h00 local time) set to determine who will walk away with the honour of being crowned Extreme E’s very first X Prix winner.
Combined Qualifying Results
X44 (Sébastien Loeb / Cristina Gutiérrez) 21m55.998s
ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team (Carlos Sainz / Laia Sanz) +41.097s
Rosberg X Racing (Johan Kristoffersson / Molly Taylor) +50.825s
Andretti United (Timmy Hansen / Catie Munnings) +1m08.536s
Hispano Suiza XITE Energy Team (Oliver Bennett / Christine Giampaoli Zonca) +3m14.734s
JBXE (Jenson Button / Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky) +4m54.880s
Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle LeDuc / Sara Price) +2 laps
ABT Cupra XE (Mattias Ekström / Claudia Hürtgen) +3 laps
Veloce Racing (Stéphane Sarrazin / Jamie Chadwick) +4 laps
Source: Extreme E