GRR

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 inherits Chile Extreme E victory

25th September 2022
Damien Smith

McLaren appeared to have claimed its first win in the off-road electric-powered Extreme E series in Chile last weekend – only for twin penalties for hitting course markers to drop the team from first to fifth and last in the final. The punishments handed victory instead to Lewis Hamilton’s X44 squad, with Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérréz thus ensuring their boss’s rivalry with old Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg will be taken to the series’ final round. The Extreme E title is still up for grabs in the initiative’s sophomore season, but Rosberg’s RXR team still has a healthy advantage over X44, with a reduced lead of 17 points.

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The most remote X Prix so far

Finally, following Covid-related event cancellations last year, Extreme E made its South American debut last week, as its ten teams tackled a short three-kilometre course in the Atacama desert, said to be the most remote and extreme setting used by the series so far.

RXR began the weekend with a 31-point advantage at the top of the standings, which meant a second title was within range. Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinksy and four-time World Rallycross king Johan Kristoffersson got their Chile weekend off to a strong start by topping qualifying and, although they were second in the heat, they won their semi-final. Loeb and Gutiérréz won their semi too, seemingly ensuring the title protagonists would face off as usual in the final. But disaster struck for Rosberg, when a software glitch meant RXR missed the deadline to make the grid for the climax – the first time in two seasons that the inaugural champion team hadn’t raced in the final.

That meant Chip Ganassi Racing made a surprise last-minute appearance as first reserve, joining Acciona Sainz and Abt Cupra – plus McLaren which had qualified by winning the so-called (and as it turned out suitably-named) ‘Crazy Race’.

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McLaren’s crazy win

McLaren’s Emma Gilmour took the lead at the start of what amounts to Extreme E’s ‘last-chance’ encounter to make the final. But rallycrosser Kevin Hansen, driving for Jenson Button’s JBXE squad, closed in and after a couple of attempts hit the front before the driver switch zone. Tanner Foust took over from Gilmour and faced a three-second gap to JBXE’s Hedda Hosås, who slid sideways under pressure at a jump. American Foust and Hosås made contact, the latter spinning and both missing a gate to earn five-second penalties.

Foust recovered to take the flag first – but his penalty didn’t lose him the victory as expected. XITE Energy Racing’s Timo Scheider appeared to have inherited the win, only to be docked ten seconds for taking out a marker flag and for causing a collision with Veloce Racing in the switch zone, dropping the team to third – and handing the win back to McLaren. What a way to make the final. But McLaren then found itself on the receiving end of such misfortune as Extreme E played out its Chilean climax.

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Penalties cost McLaren first victory

All five competing teams charged for the first gate in a thrilling final, as X44’s Loeb emerged with an early lead over the other four male drivers. But Foust closed in and took the lead for McLaren at the end of the second lap, before the women drivers took over.

Gutiérréz used her hyperdrive boost to take back the lead for X44 on lap three, only for Gilmour to make what appeared to the decisive move on the final tour. Victory for McLaren, then? No. Two marker flag drops led to a double penalty and while Gutiérréz also collided with one during her stint, crucially it had remained standing… victory was X44’s.

Ganassi’s Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price seemed to have taken second place after their late and unexpected graduation to the final, only for the Americans to face their own penalties which dropped them to fourth. That lifted Acciona Sainz into the runner-up position after a tough race-long fight with the Abt Cupra entry. Dakar hero Nasser Al-Attiyah was classified third with his new team-mate Klara Andersson, the Swede – who took her first World Rallycross podium the previous weekend – impressing as she subbed for Jutta Kleinschmidt. The German had been injured in a practice crash.

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Title goes to the wire

The result means RXR’s lead over X44 is down to 17 points ahead of the final round of 2022, to be held in Uruguay in November. Acciona Sainz is third, with Ganassi in fourth.

“We are very happy with the result today, of course,” said 48-year-old Loeb. “We were surprised to see that Rosberg X Racing weren’t competing in the Final, but we didn’t have a lot of time to think about it as we were racing straight away. It was a very strong fight against some great teams but Cristina was incredible, securing the fastest lap of all the drivers in the Final.”

“It was a very tough race so I was surprised to get the fastest lap, but it shows what an incredible opportunity Extreme E is providing for female drivers to prove ourselves and show we can compete against some of the best drivers in the world,” said Gutiérréz. “Now we go to Uruguay, which is very good for me as I love to race in South America. Hopefully we can even get another race win and maybe the championship too.”

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It’s not easy being green…

Final word to the event’s targeted ‘legacy programme’ environmental cause which is at the heart of Extreme E’s justification for existing in the first place. Pre-weekend, the drivers helped prepare the local habitat for the reintroduction of the Loa water frog in Calama. The species is a critically endangered aquatic frog, endemic to the Loa River, and vital to the upkeep of ecosystems in the area. The Loa is longest river in Chile and crosses the desert for 440 kilometres as a vital source for life in the Atacama desert.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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