Gutierrez/Loeb top Saudi Extreme E qualifying

Colin McMaster/Motorsport Images

Gutierrez/Loeb top Saudi Extreme E qualifying

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Gutierrez/Loeb top Saudi Extreme E qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton beat Nico Rosberg again, this time as a team owner, in the first ever qualifying session for Extreme E. But it took a penalty to make it happen.

The Rosberg X Racing team with drivers Johan Kristoffersson — a three-time FIA World Rallycross champion — and former Australian Rally Champion Molly Taylor combined to set the pace in both qualifying session, as the Swedish/Australian pairing stopped the clock just under five seconds quicker than the Hamilton-owned X44 team of Cristina Gutierrez and Sebastien Loeb — 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 9-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 teammate — the first female Spanish driver to finish the legendary Dakar Rally in the car category — increasingly hustled the Odyssey 21 as the day progressed.

“Today went really well and the whole X44 team did a great job with the car in difficult conditions,” said Loeb. “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.”

Added Gutierrez: “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.”

Two-time World Rally champion Carlos Sainz Sr. 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 teammate 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 ahead of the Rosberg team and Andretti United team of Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings, who completed much of her lap with the car crabbing as the right-rear tire dangled precariously off its rim following a puncture. They will need to navigate their way successfully through tomorrow’s “Crazy Race” if they are to reach the Final.

Andretti United will be joined in the Crazy Race by Hispano Suiza XITE Energy Team (Oliver Bennett/Christine Giampaoli Zonca) and JBXE (Jenson Button/Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky), neither of whom had trouble-free days. The former picked up a 75-second penalty for speeding in the driver switch zone, while the latter lost time with a brief on-course stoppage after hitting a bump in Q1.

A promising run for Button and Ahlin-Kottulinsky in Q2 was then undone by penalties totaling just shy of three minutes for a switch zone infraction and speeding, although the 2009 F1 world champion’s team was dealt a get-out-of-jail-free card by even greater problems for three of their adversaries.

Following a difficult Friday, Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing’s woes continued into today in Saudi Arabia, with a power steering issue requiring Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price to physically wrestle their Odyssey 21 to the end of Q1 — a situation that the former described as ‘a fist fight’ inside the cockpit. Further gremlins then prevented Price from even reaching the start-line in Q2, meaning she and LeDuc will be restricted to the “Shoot Out” tomorrow.

Other teams hitting trouble were Abt Cupra XE — whose female driver Claudia Hurtgen emerged unharmed from a sizeable barrel-roll almost within sight of the Q1 finish line — and Veloce Racing, with Stephane Sarrazin’s roll enough to rule the British outfit out of the remainder of the weekend.

“There were some heart-in-the-mouth moments today, particularly for Abt Cupra XE and Claudia Hurtgen. I think it’s safe to say we are all pleased to see her walk away from the crash — it is a testament to CBMM Niobium and their robust and tough chassis, which was put to the ultimate test today and delivered,” said series founder and CEO Alejandro Agag.

Sunday’s racing will get underway at 9:00am local time with the Shoot Out, Crazy Race, Semi-Final and Final (1:00pm local time) set to determine who will walk away with the honour of being crowned Extreme E’s first X Prix winner.

COMBINED QUALIFYING RESULTS:

1. X44 (Sebastien Loeb / Cristina Gutierrez) 21m55.998s
2. ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team (Carlos Sainz / Laia Sanz) +41.097s
3. Rosberg X Racing (Johan Kristoffersson / Molly Taylor) +50.825s
4. Andretti United (Timmy Hansen / Catie Munnings) +1m08.536s
5. Hispano Suiza XITE Energy Team (Oliver Bennett / Christine Giampaoli Zonca) +3m14.734s
6. JBXE (Jenson Button / Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky) +4m54.880s
7. Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle LeDuc / Sara Price) +2 laps
8. ABT Cupra XE (Mattias Ekstrom / Claudia Hurtgen) +3 laps
9. Veloce Racing (Stephane Sarrazin / Jamie Chadwick) +4 laps (withdrawn)

The Extreme E opener airs this weekend on Fox Sports:

• Saturday – Qualifying, 10:00am-1:00pm ET, FS2

• Sunday – Preview show, 3:00pm-3:30pm ET, FS2

• Sunday – Semifinal and Crazy Race, 3:30pm-5:00pm ET, FS2

• Sunday – Final, 6:00pm-8:00pm ET, FS1

Check your local listings for air times in your area

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