Chip Ganassi Racing’s qualifying heartbreak in Extreme E’s Ocean X-Prix was caused simply by a tree on the course catching one of the car’s external kill switches, driver Kyle LeDuc has revealed to DirtFish.
After a solid second place in Q1, which also included the day’s fastest run through the ‘Super Sector’, LeDuc was immediately fastest in the field in Q2, holding an advantage of more than six seconds over first placed Team X44.
However, upon entering the tree-lined ‘woods’ section of the track, Ganassi’s GMC Hummer EV-branded Odyssey 21 ground to a halt. Initially it was thought to be an electrical problem, but speaking to DirtFish following qualifying, LeDuc explained that the issue was much more unusual, describing it as a “one in a trillion” occurrence.
“Looks like some of the trees cut one of the emergency loops on the roof, and it actually killed the car for us,” he said.
“It pulled it and it killed the car. So we had to try to troubleshoot as fast as I possibly could to figure out where it was killing it.”
The loop is essentially a toggle for marshals to use to safely work with a crashed car, turning the car off in its entirety so there is no risk of an electricity-related accident but leaving the driver with no dash information inside.
“It’s like a dirtbike rider having his kill switch break, like in the car the motor shut off,” LeDuc added. “You want to fix it, and you want to try to fix it quick, but you’re sitting there processing a car that’s got a lot going on on it, and a lot of reasons why it could just turn off at any moment.
“But figured it out quick enough to at least get the car back to Sara.”
The painful end to what was looking like a very strong day came after Ganassi also failed to progress to the final in Saudi Arabia as a result of crash damage and technical issues.
The repeated poor fortune Ganassi and other big-name teams have suffered has led to suggestions that the race format could be tweaked further to allow a team from the Shoot Out race to progress to the final.
“We’re trying to all get together and to get the winner of the last race, of heat three, to advance to the main event, as a second row option,” LeDuc said of any potential format change.
“But it gives you a reason to race, it gives you a chance to at least – you have to work for it, win your heat race, and then get to the main and try to win that,” he said as he justified why such a change would benefit competition.
“In Formula 1 if you wreck it in Q3, you’re still in the show. You’re still in the race and you still have a chance to fight for a win or a podium. So I think the fact that just because you have a crappy one-in-a-million thing happen in qualifying, you’re basically axed from the field. We don’t have enough cars to do that.
“It’s not like we have 25 cars, and ‘sorry, we’ve got to eliminate 10’. We’re here, three quarters of the way around the planet, we need to have a reason to fight all the way until the end.”
Along with Ganassi, Andretti United and Acciona Sainz – two other teams regarded as frontrunners in the series – were also left in the consolation race after problems during qualifying.
“We’re throwing a huff at it, but the drivers that are in the top two are even agreeing with that,” LeDuc said.
Despite the calls, which were backed by a number of drivers including third-placed qualifier Mattias Ekström, no immediate format change is on the horizon.
Series founder Alejandro Agag described the talk over another potential format change as “a good discussion”. But while he confirmed no changes to race format will be made before Sunday, he did say that he was open to the idea of increasing the final line-up to five cars in future, with an additional spot for the Shoot Out winner.
“No, I think ahead of tomorrow we can’t [change the format], and I think the Fédération (FIA) wouldn’t accept it,” he told DirtFish.
“But I think the final with five could be a pretty good idea,” he said, adding that it was “definitely” a potential option for future rounds.