Hurtgen and LeDuc escape dust-up in the desert

Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

Hurtgen and LeDuc escape dust-up in the desert

Extreme E

Hurtgen and LeDuc escape dust-up in the desert


Dust and impaired vision for following cars has been a concern all week in the Al’ula desert for the opening round of the new Extreme E series, and sure enough the accident everyone feared played out on Sunday morning in the shoot-out race between Abt Cupra and Chip Ganassi Racing. Kyle LeDuc was chasing down Claudia Hurtgen in the battle to decide seventh place when he lost control over bumps in the German’s dust and smashed into the back of the Abt Cupra entry at unabated speed.

Both drivers escaped injury, which is a testament to the strength of the Spark-built Odyssey 21. But the incident was a sad conclusion for both teams in Saudi Arabia, following difficult weekends for both.

Hurtgen was particularly aggrieved, as the Abt mechanics had worked 23 hours on one hour’s sleep to repair the car she shares with Mattias Ekström, following her barrel-roll during qualifying on Saturday.

“I came down the hill and there was a big bump so I had to release the throttle, and when I released the throttle the other guy hit me,” said the 49-year-old. “OK, so I think he cannot see and the bumps were new, yesterday there were no bumps at that point. But I had to go off the throttle and in this moment he hit me flat out. He lost the car.”

Ekstrom had made better use of the hyperdrive boost to pass Sara Price before Turn 2 following the start and handed over a decent lead to Hurtgen. But LeDuc, who suffered his own crash during the shakedown on Friday, closed down the 26-second gap and looked odds on to pass before the finish.

“First of all, we fight for position seven,” said Hurtgen in frustration. “You know when you drive on normal roads when there is rain or fog you cannot see something then you must come off with the speed. It’s normal procedure. We are not fighting for the championship. After you come down there’s enough space to go right or left on the lines. Also there’s a slow corner you can accelerate out of there and I had saved the boost for the last corner. I cannot understand it.”

Ganassi team manager Dave Birkenfield played down the crash: “It wasn’t a bad shot. Both of them walked away and they’re all OK,” he said. “They took their knocks and took their licks. But man, that racing was exciting, I have to admit. That’s what we’re here for. This is entertainment. As long as we can do that entertainment in a safe manner, in a competitive manner, that’s how this series is going to survive. This is a brand-new series. They’re hunting solutions.”

Birkenfield denied that the dust problem made this an accident waiting to happen. “People race in the desert all the time,” he said. “They are series that race in the desert — the Dakar Rally’s in the desert. They’re all big, international-sanctioned events. Passing in the desert, you’ve got to practice it, be comfortable with it, be bold, and you got to be able to read terrain and drive within yourself a little bit and be measured.”

Both teams now have less than two months to recover before the next round of Extreme E, to be held on the coast of Senegal in Africa on May 29-30.

“I was so happy for the whole team to be able to go out again because it was a heavy crash yesterday and they worked a lot,” said Hurtgen. “I was fit to go out in my mind, and he destroyed everything, the whole work from the team and the luck from yesterday that I feel fine today.

“What can I say? The car is quite safe from the drivers’ side. I can say I feel fine in the car, that’s really a big point. The rest, we must think about what’s happened in the last three days here. It’s a new championship, a new car, a new facility.”

The Extreme E opener airs this weekend on Fox Sports:

• 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