Five events, three winning teams, two drivers in each of those and one moment where Extreme E really showed its racing potential.
The inaugural season of Alejandro Agag’s all-electric off-road racing series had lots of issues to overcome, and it did a lot of adapting between sessions to make sure it did solve most of those problems as quickly as possible.
But many of those problems ultimately stymied crews so much that it became increasingly difficult to measure just how well they were performing when unreliability was knocking them out at will. But, having spoken to each of the teams and been at the events ourselves, DirtFish has rated the nine teams that took part in 2021.
XITE ENERGY RACING
Oliver Bennett/Christine Giampaoli Zonca – 4/10
A team with great atmosphere, a big learning curve and improvement trajectory but just totally lacking in pace so often that once Spark sorted some of the reliability problems it left Xite Energy exposed at the back of the order with no easy positions to be gained.
Team boss and rallycross driver Oliver Bennett initially was the faster of the team’s two drivers by some margin, but Christine GZ came on leaps and bounds with each event and was pretty much on par or ahead by the time the season ended. Not that it made much difference down in ninth place.
They’ll be back next year, and Christine GZ will likely improve even further if she stays in the car. Getting a more experienced male driver in where they can push each other to new heights might help the team more, particularly if Bennett can apply his rallycross knowledge in strategy and set-up in XE’s command centre or the paddock throughout a session rather than juggling it with driving.
Carlos Sainz/Laia Sanz – 6/10
To put it kindly, a series where you have to do a high-speed driver swap in sand and either in very hot or very cold temperatures does not suit 59-year-old retired rally champions. And Carlos Sainz knew that.
His eponymous team lost time in that part of every single session, and getting off the line also proved an issue in races. But recent car convert Laia Sanz and Sainz worked hard together with a tight-knit team and got closer to the pace with every weekend. They also tended to crash less than their rivals, not that unreliability left them alone.
Motorcycle trials titan Sanz was thrilled to make the overall podium in the Arctic X-Prix, and she certainly seemed more confident after that while Sainz – while he won’t admit it – had a new Dakar Rally programme with Audi increasingly on his mind in the second half of 2021.
If there are more dune-based events like the Desert X-Prix, then these two should excel in 2022 with their Dakar experience. But with the calendar moving more towards events which will offer a better racing spectacle, it would require a little more from this duo to be a front running force.
Stéphane Sarrazin/Jamie Chadwick/Emma Gilmour/Lance Woolridge – 6/10
If the Odyssey 21 was to have perfect reliability, then Stéphane Sarrazin would probably have been the driver you would have wanted for racing scenarios as he proved more capable than anyone else of pulling off ambitious overtakes on terrains that literally nobody had ever attempted overtaking on before.
He did every event but the season finale, which was when Jamie Chadwick returned to Veloce’s line-up after missing the two rounds before it. Unsurprisingly she struggled at first given it was the single-seater star’s first off-road experience, but she looked totally comfortable on her return after winning a second W Series title.
Her stand-in was rally driver Emma Gilmour, who adapted very fast but was a little too aggressive on her debut when she potentially could have claimed an overall podium. In her two appearances she did a strong enough job to be signed by the incoming McLaren for season two, and fellow Veloce reserve driver Lance Woolridge did decently when he replaced Sarrazin for the season-ending Jurassic X-Prix.
Had the team been able to have continuity in its line-up, it would have lost the chance to run Gilmour but at the same time would likely have got more pace out of Chadwick. Either way, seventh in the standings was probably a fair reflection of its competitiveness.
Jenson Button/Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky/Kevin Hansen – 7/10
In all honesty, the rating here is dragged down by team boss Jenson Button and his first weekend in the car. He simply wasn’t up the job, and had Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky been partnered with Kevin Hansen from the off there was certainly the possibility that the two Swedes could have inserted themselves into the title fight.
They dominated their first semifinal as a duo in Senegal, then took the unlikeliest podium in the final as their car was destroyed within two corners of the race but with such a high rate of attrition it meant they were still classified third.
That slightly chaotic approach to success continued into Greenland where they took the hardest route possible to the final, including taking on big time penalties as well as big repair jobs, and then kept their heads in the final to finish second. They brought home third from the Island X-Prix and second from the Jurassic X-Prix. That kind of scoring rate could have put them past X44 in the championship.
Mattias Ekström/Claudia Hürtgen/Jutta Kleinschmidt – 8/10
Claudia Hürtgen’s nightmare start to the season was one of XE’s big stories until the series’ reserve driver Jutta Kleinschmidt stood in and proved why she is a Dakar winner. Kleinschmidt excelled at this kind of driving challenge, and fitted a very technically-minded team that was never really there on absolute pace but did come second in Greenland qualifying.
Kleinschmidt was initially only supposed to do the Ocean X-Prix, but Abt signed her full-time after her impressive performance there and eventually, with Mattias Ekström, a first podium was earned in Sardinia.
An underwhelming end to the year left Abt mired in the midfield, ruing unreliability on more than one occasion, and it may require some more experimenting with set-up to challenge the likes of RXR and X44.
Timmy Hansen/Catie Munnings – 8/10
There were a few too many errors at key moments, but not usually car-wrecking ones, and there was also times when the racing got too dicey to be sustainable. But when it paid off, it paid off big time.
Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen somewhat lucked into second place in the Saudi Arabian season opener where the order was basically set by the dust, and they came back down to earth with a big bump in Senegal for the Ocean X-Prix. This duo was improving fast though and won in the Arctic through skill and pushing their rivals into errors they would massively regret.
Their victory there basically earned them their seats for 2022 on the spot, but Munnings arguably showed XE’s most important quality when she dragged a car with no right of being able to move such was its damage all the way to the finish in Saudi.
Both had wicked racecraft, but it could backfire and sometimes being cleaner was better.
CHIP GANASSI RACING
Kyle LeDuc/Sara Price – 9/10
It wouldn’t be surprising if Chumbawamba’s song ‘Tubthumping’ was played on repeat in the Chip Ganassi tent in the paddock. The lyrics ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down’ weren’t actually heard, but it definitely described the team’s situation through the year.
On so many occasions the car simply fell apart or had running issues with the electrics that meant Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price’s best result of the year was fourth in Sardinia. This is despite arguably being the best line-up outside of the title-winning RXR duo.
Both were rapid in qualifying, until the suspension gave up, had bundles of racing ability and were experimental with their lines and approaches to overtaking which showed how all-in they were on wanting to win. The car simply wouldn’t hold up to that though, and in Senegal a tree branch pulled a safety cutoff on the Odyssey 21 and stopped what could have been a walkover as LeDuc was on another level. A massive case of what could have been, and plaudits for how they kept on bouncing back.
Sébastien Loeb/Cristina Gutiérrez – 9/10
Lewis Hamilton’s team topped qualifying at every event, but didn’t win an X-Prix until the all-important title showdown and had only previously made the overall podium in the season opener.
The combination of Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez was quiet but ruthless, and they were one of the crews where the speed of the driver switch definitely exposed a weakness early on.
Loeb’s racecraft was up there with some of the best in the series, and he was usually more reserved than his rivals coming straight from the world of rallycross, and Gutierrez was so fast that often she didn’t need to go wheel-to-wheel as she would be on her own on track.
However in the first two events the problem of dust compounded any racing learning anyway, and by the time of the mid-season Arctic X-Prix she was showing her hunger and skills in racing. To finally get a second podium, and it being a win, in the Dorset finale was long overdue.
ROSBERG X RACING
Johan Kristoffersson/Molly Taylor – 10/10
Yes, Molly Taylor rolled, and Johan Kristoffersson also blew RXR’s chances of victory in Greenland with a large jump in the final as he went to take the lead. But those moments showed this line-up finding XE’s limits quicker than anyone else and combined to be more than the sum of their parts.
Of course Kristoffersson is a rallycross legend by this point, but he still had a lot to learn with the format and terrains of XE, and particularly the strategy of sharing a car which is where this team-mate relationship showed its strength. Their feedback to each other mid-session during a driver switch more than once helped improve a result, and their working relationship with team boss Nico Rosberg also lifted them.
You could take marks away for the amount of car damage they caused, but it was the moments where they were caught out by the conditions that actually drew eyes to XE in a good way because it enabled fans to see world-class athletes on the limit. And everyone went wild when Kristoffersson made his ultimately doomed Arctic X-Prix leap into the lead. Only the car wasn’t able to cope with how brilliant the move was.