She might be one of the most popular and energetic characters in Extreme E, but for Christine Giampaoli Zonca, or ‘GZ’, returning to the paddock for the week-long trip to Sardinia represented the end of a tough, long-running battle.
At the season opener in Saudi Arabia, her Veloce Racing team showed well. In first qualifying, the team was fastest of all, with Lance Woolridge setting a blistering pace on his first tour of the NEOM course. GZ continued that charge, right until she rolled spectacularly after the car dug into the sand on an open left-hander.
The hefty shunt left her with a severe foot injury, and while she was physically fit enough to return for the delayed Island X-Prix, mental obstacles remained on her return.
“The foot is OK, it’s just that I cannot run, I cannot have a totally normal life… like for example in the switch area I try not to run, I just hop slowly, and then when I get home I put a lot of ice [on it],” she tells DirtFish. “After the track walk it swells a lot, so yeah it’s tough because it’s not just an accident.
“We all have lots of accidents, we’re race car drivers, it’s normal, but when something happens, you feel affected, you feel that you cannot do what you love and what you’re used to, everything’s like falling on top of you, so in that sense, it affected [me] a little bit mentally.
“Coming back from something like this, and then now it’s two races consecutively and it’s hard to get the pace back and everything, it’s complicated. It could end your career, it just depends how strong you are mentally.”
There’s an old cliché that once racing drivers don their helmets, they forget everything else and focus on the job at hand. But while GZ was eager to return, she says that she “still had to build up, for sure”.
“But I was happy to be back,” she insists. “I felt at home, so that’s the main thing and it’s just that sometimes when the whole week goes like that, with bad luck and unfair things, they all get together and you’re just like ‘ugh, I just need some break’.”
The break she alludes to comes after a trying doubleheader in Sardinia.
After Veloce showed it was fast enough to take on the established Extreme E frontrunners in Saudi Arabia, the team struggled for pace in Sardinia, had to contend with a right front failure in Q1 of the first round, while a brief off-track excursion while challenging for the lead of the crazy race annulled a clear points-scoring opportunity away in the second Italian round.
“I just wanted to be here and be able to race, [and] that’s what I’ve done, so it’s great,” GZ says.
“But of course it’s been a tough weekend, [a] tough week actually. A double race and a double crap weekend,” she adds with a laugh. “We have a lot of things to fix with the team, it’s good that we’re all united and we’re all helping each other and all going towards the same goal so I think that we will get there, it’s just we need our time.
“I needed for sure some seat time, it’s been four months off completely so it was really hard but I don’t know – in Saudi we showed that we had the pace and that we were up there so [I’m] a hundred percent sure that we will get it.”
That positivity in the face of negativity is typical of not just GZ, but the Veloce operation in general, which has gained a reputation as being one of the most fun and approachable teams in the paddock, while remaining fierce competitors.
“We have our own bad moments but we try to take the positives and try to improve from there,” GZ says. “In the end, we’re OK, the car’s OK and this is the main thing. It is what it is; there are lows, and to have highs, we need to have lows.”
GZ and Veloce are now looking forward to the Copper X-Prix in Chile, where she insists they’ll “get a good comeback”.
“Right now I think we are really happy that Chile is coming and we have a little bit of time to put things together,” GZ says. “So it’s a little bit like a puzzle I would say. We have to put all the pieces together.
“Now we need to train, we need to improve from the point where we are at, and we’ll get a good comeback.”