Extreme E finally resumes this week after a lengthy 20-week hiatus with a double-header event in Sardinia
A number of changes will be afoot, with no fewer than five driver switches, but perhaps the biggest change of all will be to the cars as XE has joined forces with Fox to produce new dampers for the fleet of 10 Spark Odyssey 21s.
It’s an important and much welcome enhancement given the biggest gripe drivers have had since XE’s inception last year has been with the suspension.
The question is, will the new dampers have the desired effect?
“They’re more capable for what we’re doing,” McLaren’s Emma Gilmour told DirtFish during a recent test in the UK.
“The terrain we’re racing over is pretty wild in some locations and it’s pretty rough. If you’re driving your everyday ute across it you’d go ‘no way are we going to be racing that rallycross-style across there’, so it’s pretty intense terrain and I think the suspension that we now have is just better suited to it.”
Gilmour’s team-mate Tanner Foust was equally as positive, saying that the changes will allow drivers to race even faster.
“Not to take anything away from what they had originally last year, but for sure this package has a lot more potential, it’s a lot more confidence inspiring,” he said.
“I think you can carry a lot more speed, and hopefully it will make for some tighter races as a lot of the teams are able to kind of race more against each other than just sort of hang on through some of the sections.
“I’ve only done one race so all I can do is take the data that I’m getting seat of the pants from this new setup and apply it, and I definitely think that it’s going to be a faster car.”
McLaren of course is the newest team in the field, having only joined the series ahead of this (so far abbreviated) season. But at the other end of the spectrum, last year’s champion Rosberg X Racing is making equally positive noises.
“The car’s improved massively and I’m really thankful that the championship has taken it so seriously and invested the money to really find progress here, because one of the biggest shortcomings has been the suspension so far,” said RXR team boss Nico Rosberg.
“Now the drivers are raving how it’s so much better and now you’re less of a passenger in the car.
“You’re more in control, you can take it more to the limit without going over so that’s a great thing, because in the end also for us viewers, the excitement from the drivers comes across to us so the more fun they’re having, the better it is for us as well. They’ve done a good job with that.”
RXR driver Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky meanwhile praised the ability to now experiment with car setup more, but did hint that it would take teams “time to find the maximum performance for them”.
“It’s going to be different, but everything of course depends on the tracks,” she said.
“I think for sure it’s going to handle bigger bumps much better compared to what it was before but in the end we will now push it to the limit once again.
“It’s all about finding that, and finding where to not go over the limit but of course with the limits on the time of driving it’s always hard to know. I would say I feel more confident with the new dampers, but the real test is going to be Sardinia when you race against all the others.”
But the work shouldn’t stop there according to McLaren driver Foust.
“I think this is a long journey with any new series, especially with one that is such a leap technologically like Extreme E, so I think there’s a lot more to come,” he said.
“I think, not just from suspension and setup, but also every single time, it seems like, we see the vehicle, there’s new updates to the battery, new updates to the software, updates to even the steering system.
You can really go to the limit and drive closer to perfectionNico Rosberg on the difference the new damper makes
“So they’re constantly evolving this machine and I think that’s an important part about it. If the organizers and the teams were just complacent with what we had we’d never be able to push the limits of what an EV off-road machine is capable of. So evolution is a critical part of the series.”
It remains to be seen if the new dampers will shake up the competitive order.
“It’s difficult to say if this is going to help us or not,” Rosberg, whose team has won four out of the six Extreme E races ever held, said.
“I think we have the best driver pairing, so are they going to be able to differentiate themselves more in a car where you’re really on the edge and you’re a passenger vs a car where you can really go to the limit and drive closer to perfection.
“I would actually be quite confident that since we have, I think, in terms of skill the best driver pairing, that we can probably find the limits better than anybody else with a car that’s controllable now with the suspension so maybe it’s an advantage for us, not sure.”
Åhlin-Kottulinsky was a bit more cautious in her approach to the same question compared to her boss, insisting that the team needs to remain the best prepared team in what is an increasingly tight competitive field.
“I think it’s going to be tough,” she said. “We had a really good first race, we were good on pace of course but the others are really quick.
“It’s been tight and looking at last year we had more issues with cars breaking down, and in Saudi Arabia with all the cars running it was really tight so I think it’s going to be even tighter. So it’s all about preparation, trying to do the best that we can all the time, and trying to be on our A-game.”