As Extreme E heads to its penultimate event of its inaugural season, we caught up with the leading trio to check in on their preparations ahead of the Island X Prix in Sardinia, which marks the first European round of the championship.
The third Extreme E X Prix in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, was a dramatic affair, with a maiden winner crowned which could have serious implications in the championship fight. Rosberg X Racing (RXR) remain at the top of the standings heading into the Island X Prix, although their lead has been cut to just nine points after losing their 100 per cent winning record last time out with a fifth-place finish after suffering damage in the Final.
Their nearest challengers remain Lewis Hamilton’s X44 outfit who, after continuing their impeccable qualifying form in Greenland, were cruelly denied victory after suffering a right-rear puncture, with the wheel needing to be changed in the Driver Switch zone. As a result, X44 could only muster fourth place, however they did manage to cut the gap to RXR by five points.
These setbacks allowed Andretti United Extreme E to bounce back from their difficulties in Round 2 in Senegal to claim its first win, with the impressive form of Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings dragging the team back into title contention. Their speed further was underlined by claiming the five bonus points for having the fastest Super Sector time in Greenland courtesy of Hansen, which ensures they are now just 22 points adrift of top spot.
Extreme E caught up with our leading trio ahead of the Island X Prix, with RXR keen to return to winning ways and claim a third victory in four races this season.
Kimmo Liimatainen, Rosberg X Racing Team Principal, says: “The team has worked tirelessly since the last round in Greenland to prepare the car and ensure we are in the best possible place ahead of the Island X Prix. We’ve looked at the data following the last race and analysed where we can improve so we’re looking forward to racing again.
“Although our team encountered several challenges in Greenland due to technical issues, after extensive analysis, we can now look ahead to Sardinia with confidence. We’ve learnt how far we can push the car, and we’ve still come back to score important championship points even after technical issues and a roll.
“Each race is a clean slate and another chance to score points for the team so Molly and Johan are focussing on the task ahead at the Island X Prix.
Although RXR will be gunning for victory once more, will the team be altering their approach and playing the percentages as they look to consolidate their lead over X44 and the chasing pack?
Liimatainen adds: “As we are now coming into the final two races of the championship, each point will make a difference. As always, we’re determined as a team to score as highly as possible. We need to remain clinical and not make any mistakes, but ultimately our approach remains the same, and we hope to finish the weekend with an even stronger championship lead.”
For the X44 team, August’s Arctic X Prix appeared to be another case of déjà vu. After maintaining their 100 per cent qualifying record on Saturday they were once again thwarted on Sunday, with Sébastien Loeb suffering a puncture on his opening run in the Final. This meant for a dramatic tyre change at the Driver Switch area and although team-mate Cristina Gutiérrez demonstrated incredible pace thereafter, it was not enough to claw back a podium spot.
Will it be fourth time lucky on race-day for Loeb and Gutiérrez?
Cristina Gutiérrez says: “We have had some bad luck in X Prix Finals, but we’re second place in the championship overall so we don’t want to complain too much! We’re really happy that we’ve been able to top qualifying at each X Prix so far, which shows how strong we are as a team. Now we just need to find a way to get luck on our side in the Final.”
Nine-time world rally champion Loeb is also a four-time winner of the Rally Italia Sardegna.
As Extreme E heads to a completely contrasting landscape to the previous three rounds, which will provide a harder compact surface with many rocks and bushes plus riverbeds that crack due to the heat, will this experience prove invaluable as X44 look to close the gap at the top?
Sébastien Loeb said: “We can’t wait to get to Sardinia to race again for X44. It’s a terrain I have raced on before, but it will be totally different to the last X Prix in Greenland so it will be interesting to see how all the teams adapt. We’re only 9 points behind the championship leaders which is not a big gap at all, so we’re doing all our preparations to make sure we’re ready to secure another first place in qualifying, and hopefully another podium finish.”
As the leading duo endured setbacks in the Final, it was left to Andretti United Extreme E to pick up the spoils and claim their first win of the season. The teamwork of Hansen and Munnings in the Final proved integral to the team’s success, which saw them back firmly in the championship picture and just 22 points off of the top spot. Andretti United Extreme E’s fighting spirit has been on show across the whole season, but after overcoming the difficulties of the Desert X Prix in May with a victory last time out in Greenland, are they confident in securing back-to-back wins?
Timmy Hansen says: “We’re very confident as a team going into Sardinia on the back of our win in Greenland. At each race, Catie and I are learning more and more about the car and the entire Andretti United team is working very well together so all of this makes a difference when it comes to our performance behind the wheel.
“Sardinia will be a much harder compact surface compared to the other races so far with many rocks, so avoiding punctures could become a key factor over the race weekend. I’ve had quite a lot of success in other championships I’ve been competing in recently [World RX and Nitro] – I definitely never feel tired of standing on a podium so I’m hungry for more trophies in Sardinia too!”
Securing the Super Sector prize, not to mention an extra five points in the Championship, at the Arctic X Prix underlined the ever-growing pace of the Andretti United Extreme E outfit. Have they unlocked the secret formula to consistently challenge for honours?
“Obviously we have lots of tough competition in Extreme E, and the likes of RXR and X44 have been consistently good this season,” says Catie Munnings.
“However, all of the teams in XE are really competitive and we’ve really had to work for both of our podium results so far. The last couple of races has proved is that it’s not always about outright pace – you need to be tactical too and know when to push and when to hold back a little.
“The terrain at Extreme E races is both varied and punishing so I think key to success is for Timmy and I share to share as much information with each other as possible – with such limited time behind the wheel, I really value this time with Timmy in order to figure out the best strategy when it comes to getting in the car.”
The Island X Prix starts on 23 October, and as the all-electric SUVs have been at sea travelling the globe on the series’ floating centrepiece – the St. Helena – teams won’t be able to start preparations with the cars themselves until they touch down in Sardinia, ensuring a race against time to be ready for the shakedown.