Sunday, September 19, 2021

X44 throws down the gauntlet topping the timesheets in qualifying

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Following an epic curtain-raiser in AlUla, Saudi Arabia just eight weeks ago, expectations were high as the Extreme E fraternity rolled into Dakar, Senegal for this weekend’s highly anticipated Ocean X Prix (29/30 May). As was the case at the Desert X Prix at the beginning of April, it was Lewis Hamilton’s X44 squad that topped the timesheets at the end of Saturday’s qualifying runs with a resounding statement of intent to the rest of the paddock.

The pioneering electric SUV off-road racing series has hit the beach for the second stop on its 2021 calendar. The 6.1km Ocean X Prix course runs alongside the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and sets the scene perfectly for another dramatic Extreme E showdown.

Featuring the notoriously bumpy and flowing ‘Moguls’ section, a single file wooded area and a spectacular start/finish straight running along the beach, this course has been heralded by the drivers as more technical and closer to their initial vision of Extreme E.  Not only that, but the ‘Super Sector’ – new for this weekend – awards five points to the driver who sets the fastest time in the middle sector of the lap over the weekend.

The X44 team were quickest from the outset, with Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez setting a blistering pace in their opening run of the day. This was swiftly followed by another pacey outing in Q2 to top the overall timesheets, after the first day of competition in Senegal.

Extreme E 2021: Ocean X-Prix
© Sam Bloxham / LAT Images / Extreme E

Sébastien Loeb, X44 driver said: “Today’s qualification was obviously very good for us, I’m happy with my time and of course Cristina’s driving was incredible. The track for me was a lot more interesting than Saudi Arabia and I had a lot of confidence in the car which allowed me to go flat out all the time. Tomorrow will be a totally different way of racing, and we’re up against strong teams, so it’s difficult to say what will happen but I know we have the speed to win so I’m feeling good.”

Cristina Gutiérrez, X44 driver said: “I’m very happy with today’s result and our performance as a team. We came into the weekend in a good position so I was confident we could do well but of course finishing top in qualifying is better than I could have hoped for! The type of track for me was much harder than the Desert X Prix, and the sand shifted a lot between the two rounds of qualifying so it was a challenge, but I managed to get a good time and Seb was amazing. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow but I’m feeling confident and I can’t wait to get back in the car.”

The only pairing that looked to threaten the X44 car’s seemingly insurmountable position was the Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing drivers of Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price, the American duo were ultimately denied a chance at the top spot when LeDuc stopped on-track with technical gremlins. Mercifully, the 39-year-old managed to reset his ODYSSEY 21 and get underway once more, but to no avail. They ended qualifying in seventh position and will once again fail to make it to the final.

Extreme E 2021: Ocean X-Prix
© McMaster / LAT Images / Extreme E

Desert X Prix winners Rosberg X Racing kept X44 honest but at the end of the day were 27 seconds adrift of the summit of the standings. They would have gone quicker still were it not for hard landing over one of the jumps, pitching Molly Taylor off-course in her Q2 run, the Australian gathered it up brilliantly and lost only a handful of seconds in the process.

The updated ABT CUPRA XE line-up of Mattias Ekström and Jutta Kleinschmidt were also in the mix throughout qualifying with the pairing looking set to challenge the front-runners before receiving a 15-second penalty. Despite being one of Extreme E’s official Championship Drivers, Kleinschmidt was still acclimatising to the series’ nuances, stepping into the switch zone before the ODYSSEY 21 was switched into neutral, denying the team any chance of troubling the X44 squad.

Kevin Hansen’s first competitive laps behind the wheel of the JBXE car confirmed why the World RX driver was drafted in, going fourth fastest overall alongside team-mate Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky.

After eight weeks of waiting, Veloce Racing finally got their first official lap times on the board. Jamie Chadwick was visibly thrilled at the end of her first run, grinning from ear to ear as she rounded the final corner. Alongside team-mate, Stéphane Sarrazin the duo set consistent lap times taking minimal risks with the aim to build their pace throughout the weekend – they did just that improving by 10 seconds from Q1 to Q2.

The XITE ENERGY RACING powered by myenergi squad, meanwhile, will be delighted with sixth overall after a noticeable improvement from the Desert X Prix for Oliver Bennett and Christine GZ, booking themselves the last Semi-Final slot for Sunday.

Each of the bottom three teams looked set to be fighting at the sharp end this weekend, but it was not to be, Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti United Extreme E and ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team all suffered mechanical problems relegating them to the bottom of the table.

Extreme E 2021: Ocean X-Prix
© Extreme E

Timmy Hansen stopped on-track during his first qualifying run meaning it was going to be an uphill battle for himself and Catie Munnings to make it into the top six. The Swede managed to get his ODYSSEY 21 restarted but the subsequent three minutes lost were too great to overcome.

Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz were another pairing that were setting purple sectors prior to their car ground to a halt in Q1. This time, the problems were not fixable and the resulting DNF resigned them to the Shoot Out.

Wheel-to-wheel action gets underway tomorrow (Sunday, 30 May) with Semi-Final 1, Semi-Final 2, the Shoot Out and the all-important Final which will see four cars on-track for the first time in Extreme E.

Timmy Hansen, Andretti United Extreme E driver said: “It’s been a tough day and even more disappointing after we were fastest in free practice yesterday. I had four of five jumps with the same sort of landing and then on the next jump the car shut down after the landing and I couldn’t get it restarted. It’s always frustrating when that happens as everything was going pretty well until that point. Fortunately, after a couple of minutes, I managed to get everything restarted and at least I could get the car back to Catie but it’s certainly not been the day we wanted.”

Catie Munnings, Andretti United Extreme E driver said: “The conditions out there are tough and very different from what we had in Saudi. You could see a huge difference even in Q2 after the number of ruts from the first quali session. You really need a lot of confidence with those bumps.  We were really unfortunate with the mechanical issue and luck wasn’t on our side today. We worked with our engineer and team ahead of Q2 but unfortunately the time lost in Q1 meant we were dependent on problems for others to be in with a chance of the semi-finals. We’ve still got the shootout tomorrow so we’ll still be fighting for as many points as we can.”

Molly Taylor, Rosberg X Racing driver said: “Today has been a challenging day here in Senegal but one we have lots to learn from and many positives to take onboard. I felt we didn’t quite get the balance of the car right in both sessions, and it’s so difficult to tweak the car set-up for a course layout that keeps changing with new ruts and driving lines appearing all of the time! But overall our pace is good and we’re pleased to be through to the semi-finals. We have a lot of data to go through tonight but we’ll be prepared to go racing tomorrow.”

Johan Kristoffersson, Rosberg X Racing driver, added: “It’s been an interesting start to the weekend for Molly and I in the car, but the team has done a great job to help us progress to the semi-finals tomorrow. The course is really technical and is changing with with every lap we complete, which means we have to expect the unexpected every time we’re out on the course. But it’s a lot of fun and we have good pace ahead of tomorrow, so bring on the semi-finals!”

Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, JBXE driver said: “Today was really good. We are improving session by session – us as drivers as well as the car. We feel really great, and we are so happy to be in P4 overall. I feel like we are gaining each time in the car and it’s really working with me and Kevin, we obviously know each other really well already which makes a big difference. So yeah, I’m really excited for tomorrow, I can’t wait!”

Kevin Hansen, JBXE driver said: “Qualifying day is over, and I think we can be really pleased – we made good progress from yesterday and also for qualifying 2, good progress. It’s a huge step forward from the last race to have achieved P4 today and I believe we are up there with a real chance of challenging RXR and also APT tomorrow. The team has done a really good job and the guys are continuing to analyse the data from today, so we are definitely on the right course for progress. There’s still a long way to go to be at P1 but I mean, it’s my first race and everything is still really new.  I’ve only ever done three laps with the car on this course so really, it’s all good. Mikaela has done a great job too and we’ve still got the most important day to come tomorrow!”

Carlos Sainz, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team, driver: “Things didn’t go well for us today. Given the current rules of the championship, any issue you encounter in Qualifying compromises your whole weekend and you miss any chance of making the semi-finals and the final. It is something that we should look at it in the future, because it is a shame that we go around the world only to drive four minutes if you have bad luck in one Qualifying session. I think there will be time to look at it, but for now we will keep our heads down and have full focus on tomorrow’s race, where we will try to keep on learning for the future.”

Laia Sanz, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team driver: “It is a shame, because both Carlos and myself were feeling very well at this track. He did a great job and I was feeling very confident. It is a shame that we had an issue that prevented us from finishing Qualifying 1. I took it easy in Qualifying 2, because there was nothing we could do and the surface of the track was already in a bad state. It is a shame, because I think it could have been a good weekend.”

Albert Fàbrega, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team, Team Principal: “Today was not a good day for the team. We lost water pressure in Qualifying 1 after a leak in the radiator and the car stopped on track. It is a real shame, because Carlos and Laia were driving really fast. We would have definitely made it to the semi-finals and we were fighting for a podium finish, but this championship is like this and any problems you encounter on Saturday compromise your whole weekend. We can only move on and focus on Sunday’s race to wrap-up the weekend on a good note and test new things that will come in handy in the next few events.”

Mattias Ekström, ABT CUPRA XE driver, said: “Well, I mean it was a bit different to wake up and find out that Jutta was my new teammate, but I think she did really well and did her two laps with no problems. And also, for myself, I pushed as much as I could in Q1 and then on the second one, I was a bit more careful after other cars had had some problems. Maybe I was a bit too careful, so we definitely need to find a bit more pace for tomorrow. But in general, I think we are really happy to be third overall. So tomorrow, it will be a semi-final against my friends Johan and Sebastian – that will make for a pretty exciting Sunday!”

Jutta Kleinschmidt, ABT CUPRA XE driver, said: “I have only had one slow lap around this track here in the sand dunes, so I really didn’t know what to expect but I had very little time to think about it! I talked it through with my fellow test and development driver, Timo Scheider, and tried to visualise the track and make a plan, but actually I had to just get in it and hope to be quick.  I was very nervous.  I didn’t want to let anyone down but it was so hard to know.  I am pleased that I was on the pace.”

Sara Price, Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing driver, said:  “Well, not the day we planned. It looks like we had a tree limb that pulled out one of the electrical safety switches above the door and it turned the car off on Kyle. He did a bunch of trouble shooting to figure it out, and finally got it going to bring the car around to the switch. I had a great lap but unfortunately what happened was out of our control. We just didn’t have the time with that issue to make it to one of the semifinal races. Tough way to end the day. Our SEGI TV HUMMER EV was really good and our laps were fast, but just bad luck. We’ve got a tough team and we’ll be back strong tomorrow to try and maximize our points here in Senegal.”

Kyle LeDuc, Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing driver, said: “The SEGI TV HUMMER EV team had a great first round of qualifying; the session went super good for the team. Then the second session was expected to match that if not best it. We had a good car with great handling down to the section back in the trees. Unfortunately things went bad for us there with a limb catching the kill switch on the car. That was going to be a good run for us as a team. I was able to diagnose three or four things that could have been wrong and we finally found the problem and got the car fired up to bring it around for Sara to finish the session. She did a great job with her lap, but unfortunately the time lost to the issue put us too far back to make the semis. We’ll go out tomorrow for the shootout and look to maximize our points for the weekend with a good run.”

Tomorrow’s action gets underway at 12h00 CET, with the Shoot Out and Semi-Finals, before the Final at 16h00 CET decides who stands atop the podium at the first-ever Ocean X Prix.  

Combined Qualifying Results

  1. X44 (Sébastien Loeb / Cristina Gutiérrez) 21m44.856s
  2. Rosberg X Racing (Johan Kristoffersson / Molly Taylor) +27.582s
  3. ABT Cupra XE (Mattias Ekström / Jutta Kleinschmidt) +35.957s laps
  4. JBXE (Kevin Hansen / Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky) +40.570s
  5. Veloce Racing (Stéphane Sarrazin / Jamie Chadwick) +1m20.514s
  6. XITE ENERGY RACING powered by myenergi(Oliver Bennett / Christine Giampaoli Zonca) +1m51.605s
  7. Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing(Kyle LeDuc / Sara Price) +3m56.959s
  8. Andretti United Extreme E (Timmy Hansen / Catie Munnings) +14m12.212s
  9. ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team(Carlos Sainz / Laia Sanz) +1 lap

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