‘Formula 1 Approach’ Helps Nico Rosberg’s Extreme E Team to Victory in Senegal
Teams engineered by Formula One headliners Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are the leaders in figuring out how to navigate the nuances through the first two rounds of the Extreme E electric-SUV off-road racing series.
Just as at the inaugural race, in April at Al’Ula, Saudi Arabia, Rosberg’s X44 team of Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor dominated race day and Hamilton’s X44 team of Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez mastered qualifying at the Ocean X Prix at Lac Rose, Senegal.
Veloce Racing—with the driving tandem of Stéphane Sarrazin and Jamie Chadwick—was runner-up Sunday on the 3.79-mile (6.1-kilometer) course. That represented a major rebound for Veloce, which was last among nine teams at the opener.
Two of the four cars in the final dropped out at the first corner of the two-lap showdown, making it a one-lap, go-for-broke affair between Kristoffersson and Chadwick on the Atlantic Ocean beachfront circuit. The Swede kept closing the gap but couldn’t overtake Taylor, the 2016 Australian Rally champion. Rosberg X Racing’s victory margin was 14.676 seconds.
The first-turn drama started with Sarrazin getting squeezed to the back of the field. Then JBXE racer Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky’s Odyssey 21 SUV sustained rear-wheel damage, forcing the car out of commission. Taylor and Gutiérrez banged into one another after Taylor hit a sandbank when they were running alongside each other. That knocked out the X44 team, but the Rosberg team continued to race following the incident ironically reminiscent of the Hamilton-Rosberg feuds in F1 competition.
Officials red-flagged the race to clear the JBXE entry, and both remaining teams changed drivers for the restart. So Kristoffersson and Chadwick raced to the finish over the notoriously bumpy and flowing moguls section, a single-file wooded area, and a spectacularly picturesque start/finish straight along the oceanfront.
Winning team owner Rosberg said, “It’s not to be underestimated the challenge that was out there this weekend. It’s so difficult because no one really understands the cars properly, as you don’t get a chance to test them. So, you have to guess and figure things out – as a team, we’re really trying to bring a Formula One approach to Extreme E here which is really helping us a team to perform.
“The race format here has been a big step forward from Al’Ula in terms of development for race excitement, but it’s still early stages and there’s still a way to go. One needs to analyze again, and I think we keep on seeing more and more glimpses of such awesome motor racing and this will continue to evolve into a super spectacle the more we go on. Remember, nobody’s ever done this before, and you have to be open-minded and accept that you are going to learn and make it more and more exciting each time,” he said.
As for himself, Rosberg said, “I love this whole championship and being in the role of team principal. I’m still as competitive as hell, even though I’m not actually driving.”
Runner-up Chadwick, of Veloce, said, “The coolest thing for me this weekend was I nearly had the chance to be racing wheel to wheel with the likes of Sébastien Loeb and Johan Kristoffersson. To ever have thought that was going to happen is crazy.”
Åhlin-Kottulinsky, of third-place JBXE, described her race-ending problem: “I felt the car was really slowing down. After a few hundred meters, I heard a big noise, and then it was almost impossible to drive. But I tried to take it as far as possible.”
Loeb and Gutiérrez repeated their Desert X Prix top-qualifying position Saturday, despite Gutiérrez calling it “much harder than the Desert X Prix.” She said that was particularly because “the sand shifted a lot between the two rounds of qualifying.”
Loeb said he thought the course “was a lot more interesting than Saudi Arabia. I had a lot of confidence in the car, which allowed me to go flat out all the time.” He said he knew Sunday’s competition would feature “a totally different way of racing . . . but I know we have the speed to win.”
And in the cartoons, Charlie Brown had his kite-eating tree, and in the movies, “The Wizard of Oz” had its ill-tempered apple trees. But Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing American drivers Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price—the only pairing that looked to threaten the X44 team in time trials—had their switch-snagging tree Saturday.
“We had a tree limb that pulled out one of the electrical safety switches above the door,” Price said, “and it turned the car off on Kyle. He did a bunch of troubleshooting to figure it out and finally got it going to bring the car around to the (driver swap). 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.”
LeDuc said, “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.”
They closed qualifying ranked seventh among the nine teams.
Although the Ganassi team’s weekend didn’t go as LeDuc and Price had hoped, it won the Shootout Sunday and LeDuc took advantage of a new feature in the series, called the “Super Sector.” Five valuable points go to the driver who sets the fastest time in the middle sector of the lap during the course of the weekend. LeDuc earned that bonus, setting the fastest time of one minute, 50.891 seconds, which edged Loeb by 1.289 seconds.
Also relegated to the Shootout and a chance to pick up some points was the Andretti United team of Sweden’s Timmy Hansen and Britain’s Catie Munnings.
Hansen said he was especially disappointed because “we were fastest in free practice [Friday]. 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. 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.”
Munnings said track conditions were markedly different from what they encountered in the opener. “You could see a huge difference even in Q2 after the number of ruts from the first session. You really need a lot of confidence with those bumps. We were really unfortunate with the mechanical issue. 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 [have] a chance of the semifinals.”
Desert X Prix-winning Rosberg X Racing was second in qualifying, 27 seconds off X44’s pace.
The ABT Cupra XE duo of Mattias Ekström and Jutta Kleinschmidt was third, 35.957 seconds behind the leader. Kleinschmidt, who helped design the course with Timo Scheider, was a last-minute substitute driver for Claudia Hürtgen. The German driver arrived in Senegal with a stomach virus and was able to participate in filming requirements and the practice run Friday.
Spain’s Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz had been performing well but encountered a radiator leak that meant reduced water pressure in the first qualifying session that knocked them out of race contention and sent them into the Shootout. And Sainz lobbied Saturday for a rules change.
The veteran racer for the ACCIONA/Sainz team said, “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 semifinals 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.” Sanz, his partner, said the course “was already in a bad state” when their team got a shot at it.
Next up for Extreme E Series is Kangerlussuaq, Greenland for the Aug. 28-29 Arctic X Prix.
Extreme E Ocean X Prix
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