Everybody loves an underdog story, particularly when said underdog goes on to achieve things it shouldn’t.
XITE Energy Racing’s Island X-Prix weekend was always going to be tough as it wielded an all new Extreme E lineup of Tamaro Molinaro and Timo Scheider.
But this story has a bit of everything: drama, delight, uncertainty and even an injury for one of the drivers, when Tamara Molinaro partially dislocated her shoulder during her lap in the final.
“I never had any problems at all with my shoulder, so it came really as a big surprise,” she tells DirtFish. “It came at Waypoint 8, and literally the minute I did the hairpin I felt a crack in my shoulder and I was like ‘oh my God, this is so painful’.
“I was just about to scream, then I did the next corner which was a left-hander, so I moved from one side of the seat to the other and it just went back again.
“So I felt like my shoulder was kind of weird afterwards, but obviously I had no idea what happened exactly because everything was completely new for me. But to be honest, I didn’t feel such a pain after the second crack, I was just excited about bringing the car back on the podium.
“I felt nothing to be honest with you. I started to feel it in the evening time when everything calmed down, and the day after.
“So then I knew it was then something serious so I went to the physio in Cagliari, I drove an hour and a half to get find this incredible physio that really helped me a lot, and yeah he really confirmed there was a subluxation (partial dislocation) and he did everything he could do fix me.”
Rally drivers are a tough breed, and wasting no time, Molinaro was back at it the day after her trip to the physio.
But she nearly wasn’t there at all, as ahead of the week-long trip to Sardinia, rumors were rife about what form the team would actually take on the Italian island. In fact, Molinaro’s call to feature in the event came extremely late on.
We knew it was not easy, but we don’t like easy thingsTamara Molinaro
“It was a week before the race that we got a call, basically,” she says. “I knew it was going to be a challenge because once again everything was done last minute. “We knew we didn’t have an opportunity to test and due to budget reasons I haven’t done anything since Saudi. I’ve done just a small rally in Italy and that was it.”
Matters were complicated further by the fact that she was also being partnered by a new driver to the team, with Timo Scheider being drafted in to replace Oliver Bennet who is focusing on Nitro Rallycross.
What’s more, Molinaro had only done half a lap of the course last year in her role as test driver due to technical issues, meaning her knowledge of the track was very limited.
“It’s not really easy to go [with] a new team-mate, new suspension and everything heading into a week of racing where basically I had no experience comparing to everybody else.
“So we knew it was not easy, but we don’t like easy things.”
Still, that element of familiarity with Scheider somewhat softened the blow, even if their working relationship hadn’t involved a competitive element so far.
“I have a nice relationship with Timo,” Molinaro says. “Obviously I knew him for half a year last year that we were working together, so from that point of view, yes, but we never did anything competitive together, which is obviously very different from spending time around the paddock together and these sorts of things.
“When you race together you have to make compromises with the car and a lot of different things and obviously we never thought about it, being team-mates, because we knew that our chance would be if one of the drivers can’t make it to the race event, it would basically be one of us replacing them. We never expected to be in the same team.
“So it was really a nice adventure together. Timo is a brilliant driver and he’s been really supportive and yeah, I think I could not have asked for a better one.”
At this point, things were – unsurprisingly – looking a bit manic for the team, but come the end of round two, the team found itself on the podium, providing the perfect reward for all the pressure faced in the build-up.
“It was quite crazy to be honest,” Molinaro admits. “We’ve been the underdogs of Extreme E. The guys have been working – you have no idea how – incredibly hard during the days ahead of the event.
“There was all the updates that had to be done to the car, you have no idea the amount of hard work from the mechanics and engineers in our tent to make everything ready. And then of course from our side it took a lot of work to adapt and talk about strategy so it was really a lot of hard work and we were just so happy for the boys working.
“I think even more happy for them than ourselves, they have so much passion and it was an incredible feeling to achieve something like that for them.”
A maiden podium was a monumental result for XITE, given its recent struggles. But shortly after the race, things got even sweeter when the team was elevated from third to second after Rosberg X Racing lost the win for a lap one collision with Acciona Sainz.
Ahead of the event – with the podium the aim but a lofty target – Molinaro and Scheider agreed to get matching tattoos if they achieved the team’s maiden podium in Sardinia. So with hardware to take home, and pace in hand, the duo are now set to go under the needle as well.
And sitting a strong fifth in the points, the rest of the year is looking ideal for Molinaro, Scheider, and the XITE team, but once again they have an anxious wait to see what the situation is next time out.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, of course we would love to continue, but I think there are a lot of talks that need to happen behind the scenes,” Molinaro admits. “But for sure we would love to continue.
And there’s certainly not a ‘wait and see’ attitude about any of it, either, with Molinaro already encouraging the team to ready themselves for September’s Copper X-Prix in Chile.
“I spoke to the guys in the team and Timo as well and I told them to keep in touch and start to work a bit towards another event and do a little debrief about what we just experienced just to be sure that if the opportunity comes again, we are ready.
“I just want to be sure that we are ready for everything.”
What happened to Klara Andersson?
Named as one of XITE Energy Racing’s drivers for the year, Klara Andersson was all-set for her Extreme E debut in Saudi Arabia, only for a positive COVID-19 test to scupper her chances.
Last weekend’s Island X-Prix double-header was expected to mark her competitive bow, but instead she headed to Sardinia as a reserve driver instead of a race driver.
“For the Saudi race, our view was just to do that one race, so the plan was never to do the full season with XITE,” Andersson reveals to DirtFish.
“Because, back then, I knew I would be doing the World Rallycross Championship and we just confirmed one race for Extreme E and would see how it went.
“But unfortunately, I caught COVID so I couldn’t race, and I was so relieved that Tamara was there and could fill in so the team could participate in the race. So, I wasn’t really surprised with the decision for the rest of the season.
“Tamara did a great job and she had driven the car a lot as a championship driver last season also, so no, all good. Of course, I am a young and passionate driver and I want to have a shot at racing at some point, but I am happy being a championship driver right now and let’s see what happens.”