The Extreme E driver roster is a who’s who of motorsport driving talent. Yet in a world of Loebs, Sainzs and Kristofferssons, the standout driver in the second season of the all-electric off-road series was, for me, one that didn’t even contest two full rounds.
After practice in Chile, the penultimate round of the season, Jutta Kleinschmidt was on her way to hospital after sustaining a back injury, while the Abt Cupra team was hastily integrating championship reserve Klara Andersson into its setup at a moment’s notice.
Despite her position as a designated reserve, Andersson hadn’t driven Extreme E’s Odyssey 21 for over a year, adding to the uphill struggle she would face in Antofagasta. She wasn’t fazed though. Not in the slightest. Early on she took the fight to series regular Sara Price, before keeping Abt Cupra in the podium fight in the final.
Her contributions helped Abt Cupra to its first podium of the season, and with Kleinschmidt still on the treatment table, it ensured she kept her spot for the final round of the season in Uruguay – a round where she’d get to compete in every session.
“I’d say that the key this weekend was to get my practice,” Andersson said at the end of the Uruguay race weekend. “To get FP1 and FP2 and do the small mistakes there and then to be prepared for qualifying so we know that we had the pace going into that.”
Andersson and team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah duly won the Energy X-Prix, completing a fantastic turnaround for the team that began when Andersson was parachuted into the squad back in September. And while there’s no denying her talent – Andersson’s also been a podium finisher in World Rallycross this year – hitting the ground running in a series as competitive as Extreme E is no mean feat.
The maiden race of the series at the start of 2021 aside, nobody else has finished on the podium on their debut, or won as early as their second race either.
Preparations for 2023, where only three teams (Andretti United, Veloce Racing, and McLaren) have so far confirmed their lineups, might have spurred her on, although Al-Attiyah insists it all comes down to “talent” alone.
He’s probably not entirely wrong, but Andersson did say that hunger played its part too.
“I think I’ve been very hungry,” she said. “I’ve been watching Extreme E since the first race last year, so I’ve been very hungry watching all the pros battle it out, learning from all the mistakes and all the good things and the success and I think hunger and determination… I think it’s a lot about feeling.
“I felt confident,” Andersson, who also became Extreme E’s youngest race winner at 22, insisted. “I was hungry to perform and to race for a proper seat next year.
“That’s what I was racing for and I’m super-happy for the performance of the whole team – they’re so lovely and the car has been working so nicely on this tough, rough track that we have seen cause trouble for many cars so without them we would have never been in it.”
Abt Cupra has remained coy on who will drive for it next year. Al-Attiyah appears to be staying, with him referring to 2023 a few times in press conferences over the Uruguay weekend, and he’s made it clear he’d like to keep Andersson alongside him, too.
In the wake of the Chile race, the pair spent time working together in Spain, and in Uruguay testing buggies before the last round of the season. After Uruguay, Al-Attiyah seemed to be more sure of Andersson’s future chances with the team.
“We showed our speed and Klara showed her speed also,” he said. “Klara, she really showed the speed and she built a gap and I’m really quite happy.
“To be on the podium with Klara in Chile and here, it’s been a lot for me because I hope also to have a good and strong team for next year.”
Nevertheless, with two podiums from two starts, if she doesn’t remain with Abt Cupra in 2023, Andersson will no doubt be the hottest property on the driver market, both in Extreme E and the wider off-road world next year.