Following the season-opener 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 XPrix.
As was the case at the Desert XPrix 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 electric SUV off-road racing series hit the beach for the second stop on its 2021 calendar. The 6.1km Ocean XPrix 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.
“Today’s qualification was obviously very good for us, I’m happy with my time and of course Cristina’s driving was incredible,” said X44 driver Sébastien Loeb. “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 added: “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.
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 and ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team all suffered mechanical problems relegating them to the bottom of the table.
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 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.