Rosberg X Racing duo Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor were the pace-setters from the outset in Extreme E’s inaugural race weekend in Al’Ula, Saudi Arabia, but the pair still had to dig deep in the desert to battle their way to victory and carve themselves out a piece of motorsport history by taking victory in the inaugural round of Extreme E.
After all the anticipation in the build-up to this weekend’s Desert X Prix, race day delivered in every aspect. After yesterday’s single-car time trials, today the drivers went wheel-to-wheel for the first time, and although there were a few fender-banging moments, competitors came away encouraged that their Odyssey 21 electric vehicles can be raced hard.
Ultimately, nothing could stop Kristoffersson and Taylor from storming to the top step of the podium — not a 60-second penalty for exceeding the 30km/h limit in the driver switch zone yesterday, nor less favorable grid slots in both the Semi-Final and Final today. It was a virtuoso display of speed, skill and superhuman car control in the challenging conditions.
“This is insane!” enthused Nico Rosberg, Rosberg X Racing founder and CEO. “I’m so thankful to the whole team for the effort put in this weekend, which has been intense and really on-the-edge. Everything has come together so well and everybody has worked together so well.
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“We have a fantastic team of engineers and mechanics, who prepared perfectly for this first weekend with so many unknowns, and Molly and Johan produced some phenomenal driving. Neither of them put a foot wrong in really tough conditions, and they both showed unbelievable speed out there — their performance was really inspiring and I felt really proud watching them. To come back to claim victory after a 60-second penalty caused by a technical problem is just awesome, and they are definitely deserving winners. For the championship as a whole, it’s really been a good start.”
The duel for seventh place in the overall classification was fought out between Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle LeDuc/Sara Price) and Aby Cupra XE (Mattias Ekstrom/Claudia Hurtgen), both of whom endured difficult qualifying runs. Price initially pulled ahead by using her Hyperdrive power boost, before Ekstrom repaid the favor on the exit of Turn 1 of the 5.5-mile Al’Ula course to snatch the lead.
Once the driver switch was complete, LeDuc set about chasing down Hurtgen, but almost within sight of the finish line, the American — unsighted by the dust — made contact with his German rival and the pair both ended their weekend beached in the desert.
With just one spot up for grabs in the Final, the stakes were high for the three Crazy Race competitors — Andretti United’s Timmy Hansen/Catie Munnings, Hispano Suiza XITE Energy Team pairing Oliver Bennett/Christine Giampaoli Zonca and JBXE duo Jenson Button/Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky.
A demon start by 2019 FIA World Rallycross champion Hansen saw the Swede already clear of his adversaries before the trio arrived at the first gate, with Bennett narrowly sneaking in front of former Formula 1 World Champion Button to snatch second.
Hansen opened up a 30-second margin before Munnings took over, after which, the 2016 European Rally Championship Ladies’ Trophy winner artfully managed the gap to safely bring the Andretti United car home. Giampaoli Zonca did a good job to peg her British rival throughout, with Ahlin-Kottulinsky similarly showing a strong turn-of-speed on her way to the finish line in third.
As top qualifiers yesterday, the X44 crew of Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez opted to start from the right-hand side of the grid for the Semi-Final — giving them the theoretical inside line for “Turn 1.” ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team duo Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz chose the middle slot, with Rosberg X Racing (Kristoffersson/Taylor) taking up position on the left.
When the action got underway, Sainz got the best launch to edge fellow multiple FIA World Rally champion Loeb away from the line, with the polesitter briefly slipping back to third. Loeb then regained the advantage as the battling Sainz and Kristoffersson both drifted wide, but the Swede was not done yet and neatly undercut both of his adversaries on the exit of the first gate to seize the initiative.
Kicking up a sandstorm in his wake, Kristoffersson rapidly made his escape as his pursuers found themselves driving blindly through the dust — and by the time he arrived at the switch zone to hand over to teammate Taylor, the Rosberg X Racing car was almost 13 seconds to the good.
Thereafter, the former Australian Rally champion continued to eke out the gap, crossing the finish line just under half-a-minute ahead of Gutierrez, as both teams successfully booked their places in the all-important Final. Another 38 seconds in arrears, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team wound up third to slip out of contention.
As winners of the fan-led GridPlay vote, Andretti United had the luxury of choosing their starting spot for the Final. Hansen duly plumped for pole position on the right, with Kristoffersson lining up in the middle for Rosberg X Racing and X44’s Loeb taking up the third grid slot on the left.
Hansen replicated his lightning launch from the Crazy Race as Kristoffersson focused his efforts on fending off Loeb for second, before employing the same tactic that had served him so well in the Semi-Final to sweep wide going into Turn 1 and undercut compatriot Hansen on the exit in a sensational switchback move.
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The three-time FIA World Rallycross champ then wasted no time at all in stretching his legs, as Hansen settled into second and Loeb — grappling with power steering problems — trailed behind the pair in third. Kristoffersson handed the car over to Taylor with a half-minute advantage, and while Munnings would go on to narrow the deficit slightly over the course of the second lap, the Australian had the situation under control and wound up just over 23 seconds clear at the finish.
The moment Molly Taylor took the first ever X Prix victory! 🙌🏆
— Extreme E (@ExtremeELive) April 4, 2021
“What an amazing start to the season!” exulted Taylor. “It feels a bit surreal, with so much anticipation and preparation leading into the weekend and we all came here not really knowing what to expect. It was definitely extreme. It was the first time we had experienced terrain like that, and on every lap, the course was changing — there were so many different variables to deal with. We just wanted to make the most of the little time we had in the car — every single kilometer.
“We had a small issue in the pit lane during qualifying, but aside from that we were the quickest in every session. You have to be fast when it counts, be smart when it counts and take the big moves when it counts, and for it to all come together when it mattered was really special. Huge thanks to Johan — his opening laps were just insane — and the team has done such an incredible amount of work behind-the-scenes.
“It’s pretty cool to be part of this journey at the start of something that I think has an amazing future. This series is really throwing the traditional rule book out of the window and starting afresh, and I think everyone will agree it was spectacular to watch. The male drivers we have here are the best in any motorsport category in the world, so it’s an awesome opportunity for us female drivers and a real investment in the development of female racing talent. This is just a dream come true all-round.”
Kristoffersson said: “First of all, huge congratulations to the team. We had some minor issues but we came here very well-prepared, which made our life so much easier out on track. This sport isn’t only about the drivers; it’s about the team giving us the tools to do the job. With such a limited amount of track time, you need to have confidence that the car will do what you ask of it — and the Rosberg X Racing guys did an amazing job to give Molly and myself such a great car.
“Molly performed fantastically; it was her that made the difference in the first qualifying session. When you’re in the lead, you need to strike the right balance between backing off too much and risking too much, which is a new learning experience in this situation.
“In the Semi-Final and especially the Final, I really didn’t want to be in the dust after seeing some of the on-boards! Those first 30 seconds of the race are what you are really working for, when the adrenaline is pumping the fastest – we’re all adrenaline junkies here, and that’s the feeling you really want. It’s been such an amazing team effort overall, and I’m just super happy and already looking forward to the next event in Senegal — after a few weeks off first!”
Series founder and CEO Alejandro Agag was delighted with how it all came together.
“We’ve worked so hard on this for many years, and finally everything has come together this weekend,” he said. “It really has been beyond my wildest expectations. If I had written a script for the perfect weekend, I could not have come up with anything better than what we have witnessed these past two days — I’ve never seen such extreme racing in my life.
“This first race weekend will have a huge influence on how Extreme E evolves, and one of the reasons I feel so proud is that we have built this platform where female drivers can shine like they deserve. What we have seen from them here is extraordinary — some incredible talent and courage — and overall, I think it’s fair to say we have really made our mark. I’m over the moon.”
With the Desert X Prix now complete, the cars will be loaded back onto the St. Helena — Extreme E’s floating centerpiece — to set sail for Lac Rose in Senegal, the setting for the Ocean X Prix on May 29-30.
1. Rosberg X Racing, Johan Kristoffersson / Molly Taylor, 2 laps
2. Andretti United, Timmy Hansen / Catie Munnings, +23.73s
3. X44, Sebastien Loeb / Cristina Gutiérrez, +1m38.09s
1. Rosberg X Racing (Johan Kristoffersson / Molly Taylor) 35 points
2. X44 (Sebastien Loeb / Cristina Gutiérrez) 30 points
3. Andretti United (Timmy Hansen / Catie Munnings) 28 points
4. ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team (Carlos Sainz / Laia Sanz) 26 points
5. Hispano Suiza XITE Energy Team (Oliver Bennett / Christine Giampaoli Zonca) 20 points
6. JBXE (Jenson Button / Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky) 17 points
7. ABT Cupra XE (Mattias Ekström / Claudia Hürtgen) 13 points
8. Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle LeDuc / Sara Price) 12 points
9. Veloce Racing (Stéphane Sarrazin / Jamie Chadwick) 8 points
The Extreme E opener airs today 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