Kyle LeDuc already knew where the topic of conversation was headed after the first Island X-Prix double header in Sardinia.
He and team-mate Sara Price had finally broken Chip Ganassi Racing’s run of bad luck in Extreme E. Until last week, they’d never stood on the podium.
One year before, on the very same Italian island, LeDuc handed over the GMC Hummer EV to Price with a 45-second lead in the final. Alas, a steering rack failure forced her to park up and retire. It wasn’t the only time that year a component failure struck and set Ganassi back – steering rack failures became a bit of a running theme. But this one undoubtedly hurt the most.
Fast forward through a year of arguably being the series’ unluckiest team and redemption for that near-miss has finally arrived. Victory at last.
But, as has often been the case for Ganassi in XE, its first win wasn’t exactly straightforward. It took the partial demise of Rosberg X Racing to make it happen – and only after RXR’s drivers had sipped the winners’ champagne on the podium.
“It’s a cool story. I just wish we did it a little bit differently or were able to celebrate on the podium like they were able to,” LeDuc told DirtFish.
Topping practice at the start of the week, Ganassi looked to, once again, be the team to beat – only this time its car, along with the nine others in the field, was sporting new suspension and shock absorber upgrades, curing an issue that’s plagued every competitor, although perhaps non quite as much as LeDuc and team-mate Sara Price.
Glossing over the electrical gremlins that derailed LeDuc and Price’s qualifying efforts, the team was left to make the main event of round two via the crazy race.
There, Price battled hard with McLaren’s Emma Gilmour, and lost ground to Lance Woolridge of Veloce after a brief off-track excursion, before handing the car over to LeDuc. He then put in a mammoth performance to not only get by the Veloce machine but obliterate race leader Abt Curpa’s 26.03s advantage it held over them, reducing it to 9.87s.
It was a great showing, but ultimately meaningless with only the winner going through to the final. That was until Abt Cupra got a 10-second penalty for a switch zone infringement. That fantastic, time-warp display wasn’t just good to watch, after all; it ensured that they were in the right place at the right time when it was someone else’s turn to be hammered with misfortune.
It was a similar story in the final. Up front, RXR’s Johan Kristoffersson and Carlos Sainz, the latter racing for his eponymous team, controversially collided. The championship-leading RXR entry survived the melee, with LeDuc poised just 4.49s in his rearview.
While Price kept the pressure on in the second half of the race, it was Kristoffersson’s team-mate Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky that crossed the line first.
We’re often told that lightning never strikes twice. Yet without a single cloud in the sky, let alone the threat of a thunderstorm, it did. RXR had 30 seconds added to its race time, dropping it to third, and promoting Ganassi to the elusive first win. Finally.
“It felt good and obviously I would have been nice to flat out beat them and be faster and all that but we were in a good spot to take the opportunity to get the win,” LeDuc said of the team’s unorthodox route to victory. “We came a long way from qualifying last to winning the crazy race and getting to the main and winning that.”
Price, who jokingly called it the “most awkward win ever,” added: “We worked hard to get here and the fact that we finally got our break after so much bad luck, it was something that we were super-proud of and pumped for but at the same time.
“But, y’know, that’s how this racing goes. Every little thing you do is looked at and so having a clean race is super-important here and so we’ll take it.
“A win’s a win!”
On the ground, there genuinely wasn’t anyone disappointed with Ganassi’s breakthrough victory, except perhaps Sainz and the Acciona Sianz team, which is still pushing for a harsher penalty for RXR after the race-ending shunt.
Some of those water crosses and stuff we were slamming into would’ve broken these cars last year, for sure.Kyle LeDuc on XE's new suspension package
Suspension upgrades already making a difference
After taking the top spot at the start of the week, Ganassi wasn’t able to add to its tally in round three, the second part of the Island X-Prix double-header.
But the team is in a positive mood, especially bearing in mind the improvements that have been coming along this year. That began with battery gains made in Saudi Arabia, followed by a game-changing suspension overhaul introduced for Sardinia by new series partner Fox.
“It’s better,” LeDuc insisted. “Some of those water crosses and stuff we were slamming into would’ve broken these cars last year, for sure. So the Spark step-up with the uprights and some of the components of the suspension, honestly, made 90% of the change. Adding the new shock package was a huge help but this course was still super-brutal on shocks.
“I mean, we were pounding, blowing bump stops off, we were just trying to murder these cars and that’s the thing – you make them faster, we’re going to go to that limit. It’s a never-ending cycle.
“The guys at Fox work their tails off to get this done and they helped this series get bigger and better and faster and I hope it grows.”
Price echoed LeDuc’s sentiments, adding: “I think I everything’s going to keep progressing, everyone’s going to keep getting faster racing, that progression from last year to this year – the cars are getting better. Obviously Spark and them [Fox] aren’t doing complete car rebuilds, but we’re doing little increments at a time.
“I think there’s still room for improvement on the vehicles, and that’s something that we’re going to all, as teams, keep chipping at towards the series to try getting them to happen.”
Ganassi team boss Dave Berkenfield was equally positive, saying that Spark “has engineered a very good car” in the Odyssey 21.
“Look at the racing today, look at the final, look at Kyle chasing Carlos [Sainz],” said Berkenfield after the second round of the Italy doubleheader. “They are not holding back!
“While we still see failures, we’re starting to see fewer failures and we’re starting to see them across a different cross-section of parts, not just suspension parts or upright parts.
“We’re starting to see some other issues, but they’re teething pain issues. The events that took us out early in qualifying, we had not seen those before. Those were can issues and wiring issues, and things that are sort of gremlins or teething pains for cars.
“I think it’s good. There’s still work to be done, no race car is ever done being built until it’s retired, and then version two comes in and you start doing the same thing, and that’s motorsports.”
The team is now looking ahead to Extreme E’s upcoming South America jaunt, which begins with a trip to Chile at the end of September, with Ganassi locked in a close fight for second overall with long-time frontrunners X44 and Sainz.
“We’re still in second and so we have to be happy with that when we’re competing against X44 or Sainz … it’s good,” said Berkenfield. “I think we’ve just got to maintain our consistency, continue being there.
“There still is a lot of attrition, attrition through car damage, attrition through driver error, attrition through just sport error or racing incidents and so this series may be, above everything else, just about consistency and being really really smart.”
Price hasn’t seen the next track on the Extreme E schedule – circuit layouts aren’t revealed until a few days’ before an event begins in Extreme E – but she’s already liking what she’s hearing.
“I think Chile’s going to be interesting,” she said. “I heard it’s gravel roads so the dust will be another thing to take into consideration there. And in a mine, so that’s going to be interesting.”