Electric rally racing series Extreme E managed to get through its first event this Easter weekend. Even under the current circumstances of a global pandemic, launching some off-the-wall racing series would be a pretty big achievement, let alone with everything going on right now In fact, the boat the entire series travels the world on missed getting stuck on the Suez canal by mere days—sailing through it the week before that nightmare unfolded. Even so, it wasn’t smooth sailing for a few of the teams, as the Desert X-Prix was grueling in ways far beyond just rough racing.
In terms of established racing teams, Chip Ganassi Racing is one of the big names involved in the series. Only German touring car legends ABT and U.S. powerhouse Andretti United join CGR as teams with a serious amount of history in other categories. That, sadly, didn’t work out for the Hummer-themed Ganassi car that spent most of the weekend in a number of pieces and with fewer than four wheels attached.
The nightmare started when off-road racing specialist Kyle LeDuc hit a rock during a shakedown run on Friday, which effectively tore the right side of the car completely off. The team managed to repair the car but it suffered a loss of power steering (not what you want when you’re hooning a 3,638-pound truck through sand and rocks at over 100 mph) when it came time for its other driver, Sara Price, to run in the first qualifying event. By the time it should have been on its second qualifying run, the car just wasn’t having any of it and the team had to abandon it completely.
Extreme E’s structure, which has two drivers (one man, one woman) sharing a single car, swapping after the first driver completes one lap of the off-road, rally-stage-style course, means the teams who’ve done worst in qualifying go onto a shoot-out to determine, basically, the first loser. CGR was given a bit of a bonus, only having one competitor rather than two in the race after the even-more-unfortunate Veloce was ruled out of the event entirely. That didn’t pay off, however, as LeDuc got caught in a blinding sandstorm behind the ABT Cupra car and ultimately, crashed both of them out.
Disaster for Chip Ganassi was a triumph for the other American squad, though, after Andretti United managed to beat Lewis Hamilton’s X44 team to ultimately take second-place at the event. It had started with problems of its own, unable to get a clean run in shakedown, and with British rally driver Catie Munnings having to bring the electric SUV back on three wheels after a tire shredded itself on her first qualifying run.
It was worth the effort since it ultimately qualified well enough to be able to win a place in the final race, going up against simmering former F1 rivals and occasional childhood best friends Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton’s teams. Rosberg’s team eventually won out, after World Rallycross champion Johan Krisoffersson and Australian rally champion Molly Taylor had looked like the strongest pairing all weekend but Munnings and rallycross-experienced teammate Timmy Hansen beat the X44 team.
No mean feat, given one of its drivers is Dakar specialist Christina Gutierrez and the other the most successful driver ever in the World Rally Championship, Sebastien Loeb. Andretti United leaves the Desert X-Prix third in the standings (X44 snuck back ahead of them in the points due to claiming the highest qualifying result) and having beaten a few obscure names like Carlos Sainz (senior, the multiple-time Dakar and WRC champion) and former F1 champion Jenson Button, both of whom are actually driving for their own teams.
Extreme E’s format might get tweaked before it goes racing again at Lac Rose, Senegal on May 29-30, but it’s definitely made an impression—literally—leaving huge tracks carved through the Saudi Arabian sand.
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