NEOM: X44 will be first on the grid after a mega Extreme E qualifying session on Saturday, followed by Genesys Andretti United in second and Chip Ganassi Racing in third.
Nine-time World Rally Championship-winner Sebastian Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez emerged victorious in the first heat on the new NEOM track, while Andretti’s Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings sealed the deal in the second heat qualifying session under the new racing rules.
Back for its second season, Extreme E returned to Saudi Arabia for the Desert X Prix, held in NEOM for the first time. Season 2 featured a new racing format, including the pressure of two five-car races for Q2.
X44, founded by seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, had a stellar performance, collecting a total of 19 points from both qualifying sessions, which will put them at a great advantage for Sunday’s semifinals. A 17-second penalty collected by Rosberg X Racing for over-speeding in the driver switch point dropped them to fifth place, allowing Genesys Andretti United to claim second with 18 points.
In the new format, points are awarded to drivers depending on where they finish in qualifying. This then gives an intermediate classification that will decide the order for which cars progress through to semifinal 1, semifinal 2 and the “Crazy Race” — the top two teams from each semifinal and the winner of the “Crazy Race” progress to the final on Sunday.
After an action-packed morning of single-car sprints, the starting order for the heats was set.
The first four saw X44’s Loeb, Sainz XE’s Carlos Sainz, Chip Ganassi’s Sara Price and ABT Cupra’s debut driver Nasser Al-Attiyah kick off heat one of Q2, with Veloce Racing unable to partake due to Christine Giampaoli-Zonco’s qualifier-ending crash in Q1 earlier in the day, which resulted in a fractured ankle. With Veloce missing, only four cars took part in the heat.
Heavy rains throughout the night compacted the sand, which gave the cars more grip and speed. Loeb led the start with Price in second and Sainz in third. Al-Attiyah was the first to activate hyperdrive, resulting in an early position climb to third place in the second section. Despite the rain, drivers witnessed a blurred scene following Loeb, with the NEOM desert dust engulfing the air throughout the track.
Al-Attiyah bicycled his Cupra causing a collision between himself and Sainz — two Dakar Rally rivals — after making a move for second place that went wide during the third section. The contact between the drivers resulted in Sainz getting pushed off course and being forced to retire just before the driver switch point, while Al-Attiyah sustained damage but was able to continue the race.
Loeb handed over to Gutierrez, who took the lead in the final lap, with Jutta Kleinschmidt and Kyle LeDuc following. Kleinschmidt used hyperdrive in section two to no avail as Price managed to defend her position; ABT Cupra missed the gate and was awarded a five second penalty.
Genesys Andretti United’s Timmy Hansen, Rosberg X Racing’s Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, Xite Energy Racing’s Oliver Bennett, McLaren’s Tanner Foust and JBXE’s Molly Taylor started the line-up for heat two.
Hansen led, followed by dune riders Foust, Ahlin-Kottulinsky, Bennet and Taylor. Hansen took fastest tap, with drivers unable to close the gap. The McLaren almost free-fell on the slope leading to the driver switch, with Ahlin-Kottulinsky breaking the speed limit and getting a time penalty.
McLaren debuted in the all-electric motorsport series with their first female driver in history, Emma Gilmour. Foust managed to close back in on the leader with the top two nose-to-tail as they entered the switch-zone. Unfortunately, Gilmour could not get the car started after the driver switch, costing her the time made up by her co-driver in the first lap.
Munnings led the final lap from the switch point followed by Johan Kristofferson, Tamara Molinaro and Kevin Hansen, with Gilmour trailing behind. Kristofferson managed to side-swoop Munnings on the steep hill leading to the finish line and would have been in second place on the grid were it not for the 17 second time-penalty sustained due to over-speeding.
Veloce Racing reserve driver Hedda Hosas will take Giampaolli-Zonco’s place for the remainder of the Desert X Prix.