Former Abt Cupra Extreme E driver Mattias Ekström has opened up about his split with the team ahead of the new season.
The 2016 World Rallycross Champion was one of the all-electric series’ biggest signings for the 2021 season, teaming up with the Abt Sportsline operation which took him to two DTM touring car titles in the mid-2000s.
Ekström, who was partnered by Claudia Hürtgen for the opening round in Saudi Arabia and then 2001 Dakar Rally winner Jutta Kleinschmidt for the remainder of the campaign, took a best finish of second in the Island X-Prix in Sardinia in what was otherwise a difficult season.
Combined with a title-winning assault with Cupra in the electric Pure ETCR touring car series and preparations for Audi’s maiden outing on the Dakar, Ekström decided to trim his hectic racing schedule in order to spend more time at home.
Extreme E, therefore, was the program which faced the cut.
“When I joined up with Cupra, the main program for me was Pure ETCR and then when they agreed to team up with Abt, they asked me if I wanted to do Extreme E,” Ekström told DirtFish.
“It was a bit of a late deal which, at first, I thought on paper looked like it would be perfect for me. And then I realized that, to do Pure ETCR, to do all the preparation rallies [for the Dakar], Extreme E and then taking on bits of the EKS company, and then also some rallycross races, I ended up with only work in my life and no family time.
“And then I had a think about what makes me happy and what I focus on in racing. I really enjoyed the Pure ETCR and the circuit racing and I asked myself: ‘if Pure ETCR is an option for me again this year, will I do it?’ And the answer was: ‘yes, probably I will’.
“After I had driven the Audi, it put Extreme E in a different light, because it is like driving two completely different cars, even if on the outside they look similar. So, after I drove the Audi, going back into the Extreme E car didn’t feel as great anymore.
“If I break it down to one thing, after driving the Audi, I just couldn’t see any pure joy in driving the Extreme E car. That’s the naked, brutal truth.”
Ekström admitted that the limited seat time in Extreme E compared to the Dakar Rally was another factor that influenced his decision to step back from the series.
“You have the highest of the hi-tech in the Audi, with the engineers and the racing you do there, versus Extreme E where you are not driving as much, you are away from home a lot,” he said.
“I was tired a lot, we had some technical issues, no luck so the whole combination contributed, I think.
“The work/life balance is very important for me, and if you are always too busy, work too much, you won’t enjoy anything. I have a nice summer house, I never get to go there, I have a great sofa, never sit on it, I have a nice kitchen but never use it.
“So, I said: ‘let’s focus on the Audi program and if I get the chance to defend my Pure ETCR title, I will do that. For the rest, let’s go and play tennis or go running.’ I’ve had the first four-week break since April 2020 and it’s been great.”
Ekström will therefore concentrate his racing efforts on defending his Pure ETCR title alongside an intense testing and development regime with Audi Sport, with whom he is tipped to contest some events on the World Rally Raid Championship calendar this year.