Extreme E pioneers electric off-road racing in Arabian desert

Extreme E Racing Gets Off to Spectacular Start with Dazzling Duel In the Desert

The pioneering electric SUV off-road racing series has ventured into the heart of the Arabian desert for its inaugural X Prix


SOURCE: Extreme E

3 April 2021, London: Extreme E had promised to bring the show in AlUla this weekend (3/4 April), and the opening day of the Desert X Prix did just that with jaw-dropping competition, stunning backdrops, high drama throughout including a heartstopping roll and a sensational scrap to top the Qualifying timesheets – one ultimately won by X44 duo Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez.

The pioneering electric SUV off-road racing series has ventured into the heart of the Saudi Arabian desert for its inaugural X Prix, and the challenging, high-speed 8.8km track layout – laid out in the midst of a breathtaking otherworldly landscape – was designed to push drivers and cars absolutely to their limits. It did not disappoint.

Winding 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.

Sébastien Loeb, X44 driver, said: “We're very happy to have finished Qualifying in first place. Today went really well and the whole X44 team did a great job with the car in difficult conditions. We were the first drivers to get out onto the track so it was hard to know what to expect in the first Qualifying round, but obviously our strategy paid off and we achieved the time we needed to. Tomorrow is a new day and the standard of the other teams will be really high, so we're just going to keep doing what we're doing and pushing to win.”

Cristina Gutiérrez, X44 driver, said: “We've had an incredible day, but it was also very challenging! We haven't been able to spend any time in the car for the last few months so it was difficult to get used to it again, but we managed to fight and achieve a good time. To have finished first in Qualifying and have our car still in great condition is amazing; we're really happy, and we can't wait to go again tomorrow. We know the other teams are not going to be easy to race against, but we are confident and ready to go.”

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.

Carlos Sainz, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team driver, said: “Considering it is only the first day of racing, in general we are pretty happy. We set the second-fastest time overall and we scored good points. Tomorrow we will be in the first Semi-Final, from where only two teams will reach the Final. We will try to do a good job. The goal for Sunday is to make it into the Final. We know it will be tough judging by the lap times we have seen today, but the team is in good spirits. The start will matter a lot. It

First Published: 2021-04-03

Pages Viewed: 326

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