Team X44 and Andretti United locked in prime semifinal starting spots for the Desert X-Prix after winning their qualifying heats at the Extreme E season-opener in Saudi Arabia.
But for Andretti United, its victory came after it was beaten on the road by Rosberg X Racing in a closely-fought duel to the finish line. A 17-second penalty for speeding in the driver change area meant that RXR’s victory was taken away moments after the checkered flag.
Timmy Hansen had resisted early pressure from McLaren driver Tanner Foust, the two clearing the rest of the five-car pack early on.
Foust’s hard work was to be undone by the mid-point though as an electrical issue meant Emma Gilmour struggled to get the car restarted during the driver switch, dropping McLaren from second to fifth.
While that initially handed a hefty advantage to the Andretti United entry, now in the hands of Catie Munnings, she ended up being at the mercy of RXR’s Johan Kristoffersson, who’d taken over from new team-mate Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and set about mounting a charge to the front.
The reigning champion closed the gap to Munnings by the final waypoint, passing her meters before the finish line, but the victory was short-lived after the post-race penalty was applied.
That gave Andretti United the victory ahead of Xite Energy Racing’s Oliver Bennett and Tamara Molinaro. JBXE’s pairing of Molly Taylor and Kevin Hansen finished third after a relatively quiet race, with the penalized RXR fourth.
In the earlier Q2 heat, Sébastien Loeb made the most of a good start to clear fellow Dakar veterans Carlos Sainz and Nasser Al-Attiyah at the start and, save for a brief challenge from Sainz in his eponymous entry, was untroubled at the front of the field.
Abt Cupra driver Al-Attiyah quickly began to hunt down Sainz after initially being passed by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Sara Price, with Price opting for an alternate wide line for the first proper turn on the course.
As Sainz and Al-Attiyah approached waypoint 17, the Abt Cupra car snuck up the inside but carried too much momentum and ran wide on corner exit. As he scrambled to rejoin the racing line he pitched onto two wheels and made contact with Sainz.
That took the two-time World Rally champion out of contention – he was able to limp back to the change zone, but the team was unable to continue. Al-Attiyah’s Abt Cupra car meanwhile suffered broken power steering, but was able to continue in the hands of Jutta Kleinschmidt, albeit slapped with a five second penalty for causing a collision.
With Cristina Gutiérrez taking over the X44 car for the second lap, she had to maintain Loeb’s sizeable lead while Ganassi’s Kyle LeDuc hunted her down. He closed to gap down to 19.580s by race end, but couldn’t snatch the victory.
Kleinschmidt fought through the power steering issues to finish third, while the Acciona Sainz entry was classified fourth after failing to finish.
Ahead of the heat races, a round of single-car runs took place for Q1, a change from the original plan of two rounds of races owing to predicted levels of high dust that failed to materialize, due in part to overnight rainfall.
RXR topped the first session, its two-lap run being 6.911s quicker than 2021 rivals X44. Andretti United was the third-fastest team in Q1, with Ganassi and Xite Energy rounding out the top five.
A number of penalties were issued in Q1 for driver change infringements.
Andretti United was not parked properly in its bay for its driver change, while Ganassi clipped a marker on its way into the pit lane.
Similarly, Laia Sanz braked too late on her approach to the zone, resulting in a speeding penalty for the Acciona Sainz squad, while Al-Attiyah missed the final waypoint (but lopped back to pass through after realizing his mistake), and was also hit with a five-second handicap.
Acciona Sainz beat McLaren to sixth spot, while Abt Cupra and JBXE completed the Q1 finishers.
Absent from Q2 was Veloce Racing following a rollover for Christine Giampaoli Zonca in the first session.
Team-mate Lance Woolridge had taken the team to the top of the times before handing over to GZ, who maintained the pace before the incident. Sliding on the approach to gate 22, the right rear tire dug in, pitching the car into a violent roll.
GZ suffered a baseline fracture to her left foot in the incident, which was confirmed after precautionary scans at a local hospital.
The team is aiming to return to action tomorrow for the ‘Crazy Race’ last chance qualifier, with the team’s development driver Hedda Hosås set to step in alongside Woolridge.
Hosås has been granted a sighting lap by XE organizers to learn the track ahead of replacing GZ on Sunday.