Lance Woolridge might not be seen as a star signing by Veloce ahead of the 2022 Extreme E season, but his work behind the scenes last year means he’s the perfect candidate to lead the team.
Many casual Extreme E fans will have first heard of Woolridge at last year’s season finale in Dorset. Woolridge stepped in to replace Stéphane Sarrazin for the final round and performed well, matching team-mate Jamie Chadwick’s pace over the course of the whole weekend.
That performance alone would have been enough for Veloce to sit up, take note and give serious consideration to signing him for 2022, but it was the work Woolridge did outside the car before then that put him in the frame in the first place.
Woolridge spent last season as Veloce’s development driver, and don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking.
These days development driver roles can often be seen as token gestures, allowing a driver to be associated with a team without them actually doing a great deal. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth in Woolridge’s case.
He got stuck in, got his hands dirty and worked hard to help Veloce develop and improve as the year went on, assisting with testing sessions and helping them finetune the setup and balance of the Odyssey 21.
“Before the whole championship started last year, we did some testing in France and then I was at the Aragon pre-season shakedown,” Woolridge told DirtFish.
I’ve had that experience of doing the driving myself and doing and feeling exactly what all the changes doLance Woolridge on his 2021 role as development driver
“I then went onto the events and consulted and helped on the car setup, balance of the car and see where we can improve it.
“I was meant to be at Sardinia to do the suspension test but unfortunately Stéph had that accident, so we couldn’t do that. And then we had a test consequential to that, with the new car being built, we were allowed to do some testing and put the new suspension on the car.”
Woolridge drove in all of those tests, providing feedback to the team about what was working and what wasn’t. But he took it a step further than that.
Sometimes drivers can’t see the wood from the trees. Sat behind the wheel of the car, if you get hung up on one specific issue it can cause you to neglect other areas that might also need improving.
But by being trackside at every round and with first hand experience of what the car is like, Woolridge put himself in a unique position. He knows what a driver is looking for and if the team are looking at one specific angle to improve a setup and missing another aspect, Woolridge can come in with recommendations to ensure nothing is being missed.
“There’s nothing better than driving, feeling for yourself, but in my own cross-country career we’ve done a lot of building of new cars and setup of cars,” explained Woolridge.
“So I’ve had that experience of doing the driving myself and doing and feeling exactly what all the changes do.
“And any driver from the outside, you can see when a car is rolling too much or too high or too low or too hard, and knowing what I know on the changes, I can make those suggestions.
“At the end of the day, it’s been up to the other driver’s preference all year so I can only make my suggestion, but I think it has helped.”
It’s fair to say Woolridge has totally embraced the role. He’s a real team player, not afraid to share his thoughts and opinions if he thinks it’s going to benefit the team and it’s this input that has enabled Veloce to remain so competitive.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Veloce’s driver lineup was considerably turbulent in comparison to the other teams last year. None of their drivers competed at every round, with Emma Gilmour standing in for Jamie Chadwick at two of the five events and Sarrazin missing the season finale.
But Woolridge was always there. In a way he was the team’s rock. He had all the information about the car, he knew what was required for it to be competitive on all terrains because he’d been there and done the hard yards. And that no doubt played a part in ensuring that Veloce was regularly fighting for a top five position regardless of who was driving.
So is it any wonder why Veloce want him to race full-time?
He knows the team better than anyone else, and having proven his pace at the end of last year, it would have been silly for Veloce to seriously consider anyone else.