Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing team kick-started its Extreme E title defense with victory in the third round of the season. But while the name above the door — and one of the team’s drivers — may be the same as the past two campaigns, it’s very much a new team.
For the first two seasons of the all-electric off-road championship, the X44 outfit was run behind the scenes by motorsport powerhouse Prodrive and had rallying legend Sebastien Loeb occupying the male driver position.
This year, though, legendary open-wheel outfit Carlin took over the team’s technical support — the firm’s first-ever foray into off-road racing — while rallycross star Fraser McConnell joined to partner Cristina Gutierrez.
So while the record books will show Saturday’s victory in Scotland as the team’s third victory, it was very much a maiden triumph for a team that underwent quite the overhaul in the offseason.
“Having Carlin for the technical support is really incredible. They’re a staple name in the circuit racing world and this is their first taste of anything off-road,” said McConnell. “The whole X44 tent has new faces in it, so we used the first event to get our feet wet, we did show some great pace, but after I did the track walk here I had a lot of confidence in myself and Cristina that we were going to go out there and do a good job.”
Gutierrez — one of Extreme E’s longest-serving drivers, having been in the series, and with X44, since it all began — added that while the team setup in the paddock is new, so is her way of working with her new teammate.
“It’s a very different team. They’re new, Fraser is a new teammate, he’s one of the best drivers now and for sure he has a lot of talent,” she said. “I think it is a different feeling because we learn together. With Sebastien I was much more learning and trying to understand his knowledge.
“I think Fraser has helped me a lot with his rallycross style — I came from rally raid and it’s totally different, and he helped me a lot with the lines and the starts and I developed with him.”
Regardless of whether you consider this a rebirth or a continuation of one of Extreme E’s most well-known teams, for McConnell it was a first outright victory, having only made his debut in the 2022 finale as a stand in driver at another team carrying a British Formula 1 legend’s name: Jenson Button’s JBXE.
“It’s incredible to get a win for X44, my first win in Extreme E as well so I’ve ticked a few boxes today,” said the Jamaican, who is also a race winner in the U.S-based Nitro Rallycross series.
“It was a crazy race. The field is so stacked and the competition so good. Cristina’s been fast all weekend, I’ve also been fast and we have a good team behind us and went out there and got the job done.”
The victory came after a penalty for first-placed finishers Andretti Altawkilat, McConnell having lost the lead early on after being caught out by an unsighted rut on the course. But that hiccup came after a blinding start where he saved his one use of the Hyperdrive power boost until after the first corner, whereas the rest of the Final field opted to use it off the start.
The 'Loeb line' is now officially the 'McConnell line' 👏@FrazzzMcConnell pulled off his now trademark move to put @TeamX44 in the lead at the start of the Grand Final.#HydroXPrix #ExtremeE pic.twitter.com/54YzZbNgwg
— Extreme E (@ExtremeELive) May 13, 2023
Despite the seemingly calculated nature of the race-defining move, “Frazzz” said it wasn’t something he planned to do in advance.
“It’s hard to have a scenario in your head for a start, everything changes,” he said. “You plan ABCD and Z will happen, so you always just have to trust your instincts and really believe in yourself.”
Continuing, he referenced Abt Cupra driver Klara Andersson’s frightening qualifying crash that occurred at the same point where McConnel boosted into the lead, and said that he hit the button to avoid a repeat of the incident.
“Seeing what happened to Klara earlier today — I’m really happy she’s OK –but I got alongside Timmy (Hansen) and I knew I had more pace than him going over that crest so kept it flat. When in doubt, flat out.”