The inaugural Extreme E event will be remembered for many reasons. From Claudia Hürtgen’s gut-churning roll to Johan Kristoffersson’s audacious semifinal clinching Turn 1 tactics, there were plenty of memorable moments. However, close and competitive racing is not likely to be one of them.
In Sunday’s Desert X-Prix final, it was all but guaranteed that whichever team took the lead out of the opening corner would emerge as the first-ever X-Prix winners. That proved to be the case as Rosberg X Racing’s Kristoffersson romped off into the distance at the start and Molly Taylor smoothly converted that lead into the victory.
Following in Kristoffersson/Taylor’s wake was near impossible for Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings, with plumes of dust making it difficult for the Andretti United duo to see the Rosberg X Racing car, let alone catch it. This left a final that provided a stunning visual spectacle, but it wasn’t much of a competitive race after the opening 30 seconds.
The next stop for Extreme E is Senegal in May. Is it possible for Extreme E to fill its racing void by then and which format could provide closer and more competitive racing? We assembled the DirtFish team to provide their answers:
Don’t revert to time trials
Luke Barry: The first ever weekend of Extreme E was entertaining but by no means perfect. The time trial format for qualifying was a good show – albeit a lengthy one – while the first half-a-minute of racing was excellent (we owe you one Kristoffersson) before the cars hit the technical section and the dust made any battles impossible.
Expecting championship organizers to nail it first time out of the box would be unrealistic, but the AlUla weekend should give them plenty of food for thought. And while based on what happened in Saudi Arabia it would be easy to just revert to a time-trial format, it’s in the best interest of everybody that they don’t.
The racing element is what makes Extreme E unique in the off-road world. The idea of having an all-inclusive, environmentally-focused championship that is essentially a mix of rally raid, rallycross and endurance racing (because of the driver changes) all rolled into one is superb. If they make it more like a rally, it’s essentially just an electric World Rally Championship that people can’t actually go and watch in spectacle terms.
It’s of course handy to know that time trials do work if they’re needed, but it would be a cop-out to commit to them full-time. What’s needed is savvy thinking in terms of the course layout and its terrain as well as more effective camera positions as it was criminal that the main overtake of the entire weekend was missed by all of them.
Time trials a necessary evil for Saudi
Anna Duxbury: It was disappointing that we didn’t get a whole weekend of side-by-side racing to kick off the inaugural Extreme E season. It’s what so many people had been looking forward to and somehow seeing each team tackle the course individually in qualifying just wasn’t as exciting as a wheel-banging battle between some of motorsport’s greatest stars.
Yet in the semifinals and racing, we saw exactly why it was necessary. The dust trails made actual racing impossible after the first 20 seconds or so and made the conclusion feel somewhat underwhelming. And when the cars did get close together, like Kyle LeDuc in the Ganassi and Claudia Hürtgen in the Cupra the complete lack of visibility made collisions all but inevitable.
Hopefully going forward this won’t be too much of an issue. Over glacier and rainforest side-by-side racing, XE in its purest concept should be fine, although next time out Senegal’s sand bars might once again pose a challenge.
Alasdair Lindsay: It would be great to see direct wheel-to-wheel action in XE. But is it feasible?
The dust problem will never go away – unless the terrain isn’t sand, dirt, or gravel, of course. Taking the route one rallycross method of dumping an ungodly amount of Dustex onto the track might fix it. But it’d also go against the series’ core principle of leaving no trace behind. And the amount of water required to do it would directly conflict with water conservation messaging; for every gallon of Dustex, you need two gallons of water.
The tracks need a fundamental rethink. Perhaps it’s time to abandon the idea of a traditional lap structure and take the WRC superspecial route – multiple routes which don’t overlap. These aren’t permanent circuits after all; there’s potentially lots of open space to create track variants that all loop back around to the same start/finish area. Think Rally Argentina’s Pro-Racing Complex stage but on steroids.
Giving up on wheel-to-wheel combat might sound overly pragmatic. But pragmatism is at the heart of the series’ core message, right? Making sacrifices for the greater good and all that. I reckon there’s still plenty of excitement to be had in such a format – certainly more than we had in AlUla.
Fix the cars, not the circuits
David Evans: The consideration of what could be changed in time for next month’s Ocean X-Prix was uppermost on plenty of minds in Saudi Arabia last week. And, with the news that the Odyssey 21’s power was to be trimmed for the second time in as many days, one team engineer had the solution.
“Eight cylinders, five liters and two turbos,” he grinned, “that’ll fix the job.”
He’d clearly missed the electric memo. But I could see his point. Watching the cars going off the line – one of the most exciting parts of a race of this nature – was a bit dull. With limited power, everybody’s approach was the same: floor it. That wouldn’t have been possible if the batteries had been delivering the expected 500bhp; with no traction control, the feel of the right foot would decide who got their nose ahead when red became green.
I’ve taken the long way around to say, fix the cars. That’s what I want for round two.
I’m not fussed about the suspension. It’s a stock formula and there’s part of me that feels they should adapt to the car rather than the other way around.
Make the circuits smaller
Dominik Wilde: A lot was made of the dust being behind the lack of actual ‘racing’ in Saudi Arabia, and that may well be the case, but I think the course itself has a lot to answer for too.
First off, let me clarify that I’m a fan of the two-lap, two-driver format – to a point.
At 5.46 miles, the ‘track’ wasn’t exactly short, and that coupled with its wide-open nature (and that pesky aforementioned dust) meant that the cars spread out right away. The intense wheel-to-wheel racing we were promised didn’t really materialise, except for a couple of decent start line battles.
Being DirtFish’s resident rallycross guy, you’ll often find me championing that form of motorsport – and there we have short tracks that deliver intense races.
Now, I’m not saying XE should resort to one-mile courses, that’d be pointless in these environments. Instead how about four-lap contests on tighter tracks roughly half the length of the one in Al-‘Ula? After all, is this a racing series or another take on rally raids?
Smaller courses would also fit with the series’ environmental aims too, reducing the overall footprint of each event.