Xite Energy Racing’s 2022 Extreme E program was announced very late in the day, with the Oliver Bennett-led operation confirming its driver lineup a week before the Desert X-Prix season opener.
But as the team set out for Saudi Arabia, another 11th hour twist was to come, with new signing Klara Andersson’s debut for the team being put on hold following a positive COVID-19 test.
Step forward Tamara Molinaro – patiently waiting on the sidelines since the middle of last year for a chance to race in her role as the series’ designated female reserve, it was now her gearing up for her XE debut rather than Andersson.
“I got a call on Monday night, I think it was, saying that poor Klara had a problem with her PCR [test], so there would be a chance for me to step in this weekend,” she told DirtFish of her late call-up.
“So obviously then [from] there everything started to be real – I’ve been waiting for this for so long and when it finally came it felt really good to be honest. I felt really motivated.”
Being around the XE paddock in an official capacity since last year’s Arctic X-Prix, Molinaro would already be familiar with the Xite operation, right? As it turns out, that wasn’t quite the case, but it wasn’t necessarily a problem either.
“We always see each other around the paddock but we never actually had a chat,” she said. “So I just met the guys basically on Wednesday.
“It was brilliant to be honest, they are all really amazing guys. We actually had a really strong bond really quickly so I was actually really lucky because they are really great.”
Formalities out of the way, it was time to get down to business. Molinaro was parachuted into an Xite team that often struggled in 2021, but showed an immediate upturn in form at this year’s curtain raiser.
“Well first of all the fact that Oli went through all the waypoints,” she quipped on the team’s improved performance. “But yeah, I was impressed with how the guys work.
“They are really super-professional, not that I doubted, but they are really super professional and I think Oliver did a really good job as well.
“I think he put really a lot of effort into this one which was even a bigger motivation for me because if your co-driver isn’t motivated then it’s difficult.”
Another element of motivation for Molinaro was finally having the platform to showcase her talents to team bosses. She might be returning to the sidelines for her home round of Sardinia’s Island X-Prix in May, but having that one shot to shine provided an extra layer of motivation, even if it did carry its own baggage, too.
“Obviously the minute I heard I was supposed to drive, I knew that this was my chance to prove myself,” she said.
“Because I know what I’m worth and that I deserve a seat. Not to sound arrogant, I just feel it and I wanted it so bad so I knew that this weekend was going to be important.
“Even from a mental perspective, it was not so easy… if you have a full season, even if you have a bad event, you still have much more [experience], but like this it was tough. But it was good in the end.”
Xite, with Molinaro and Bennett, wrapped up the Desert X-Prix with a sixth place finish, its first venture into the top-six since the Ocean X-Prix last season, setting a strong benchmark for Bennett and the soon-to-return Andersson for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, during the weekend Molinaro’s official role was taken by Veloce’s Hedda Hosås – that team’s development driver. She too got a late call to compete after Christine GZ, also of Veloce, broke her foot in the team’s Q1 race.
Hosås’ appearance would be much more fleeting, however, running just her sole lap in the event’s ‘crazy race’ last chance qualifier before Veloce was eliminated, with power steering failure robbing the fast team of a chance of victory and a morale-boosting appearance in the event’s final.
Speaking afterwards, Hosås described her unexpected debut as a “huge honor”.
“It has been such an incredible experience to be here with XE and Veloce Racing, and a huge honor to make my debut in the series,” she said.
“Of course, it was not in the best of circumstances, and we all hope Christine makes a speedy recovery.”
GZ, who has undergone surgery since her accident, is expected to return for the Island X-Prix on May 7-8.