Two Extreme E teams formed a bond over the downtime between rounds one and two, the likes of which is rarely seen in top-level motorsport.
Veloce Racing and Abt Cupra had a torrid time in Al-‘Ula; the former sitting out much of the weekend due to rollcage damage after a seemingly minor shunt on the first day of the event, while the latter had two massive rebuild jobs on its hands after its own roll in qualifying and a coming together with Chip Ganassi Racing’s entry later on in the weekend.
With time, resources, and an inability to return to the factory as many a team would in motorsport after a bruising weekend, both Veloce and Abt formed a plan to scratch each others’ backs while also scratching their own.
“When we came to repair the cars and decided we’re going to be in Senegal, there are some synergies between the teams,” Veloce team manager Ian Davies told DirtFish. “We’re very aware that we need to practice what we preach so we need to cut down the carbon footprint and fly less people so on several fronts, we shared some staff in the workshop.
“Where possible as a group of teams we’re sharing staff. They had some repairs, we had some staff in those key areas.
“We had a chassis to rebuild, they had quite a lot of damage so we applied to the stewards who then granted us an amount of time so we were allowed to come in early. We bring in a certain amount of staff who are going to obviously carry on with the event as we’re not going to fly backwards and forwards but where possible on this occasion James Lindsay, the team manager from Cupra, contacted me and we were able to share staff on a cross platform.
“It’s refreshing almost as the paddock is so small, you can do those things. I think rallycross is perhaps the only other one where you see that level of collaboration.”
With three teams – including Ganassi – needing to give their Odyssey 21s a bit of tender loving care, XE set up a temporary workshop in Dakar, roughly 30 miles from the race location, where the teams spent a few days after the cars arrived in the country aboard the St. Helena – XE’s own ship that ferries the cars, equipment, and infrastructure from race to race.
It’s a novel concept with teams unable to take the cars back to base all year, but the challenges it throws up are far from new in the world of motorsport.
“These things are challenging, but I think the clue is in the name of the sport,” said Davies. “So it’s just planning, we did a lot of planning before the start of the season on the boat.
“If I cast my mind back to long-haul rallies, when we used to put stuff into containers for Argentina, Mexico, Australia before the air freight came along it’s very similar to those days where it’s event planning,” added Davies, who used to work for M-Sport in the World Rally Championship.
“And we were lucky here. The guys at Spark and Extreme E got us a very good workshop with a concrete floor and they were mega, mega helpful down in the city of Dakar. So we actually had a fully-equipped workshop plus our equipment to make the swap.”
What’s more, the car is built tough. Learning lessons from rally raid machines, Spark built a car designed to not only take a hit, but be easy to repair – repairs that weren’t anticipated so early in the season, but repairs that nevertheless provided a valuable insight for how teams handle themselves between races going forwards.
“Obviously we had some unfortunate incidents on the first event of the season which has meant that we’ve needed to have some chassis repairs but the system for that has worked out perfectly, we’ll all get better at it,” said Davies. “We’ll all go back, if we did that next time, with data.
We don't want to see the same problems here but Spark piled on and really supported all the teams in trying to sort through it.Dave Berkenfield, Chip Ganassi Racing
“But we’re starting to get to know how many hours it takes to swap components over and things like that so in season one it is going to be a massive learning curve.
“In the first couple of years we need to build this sport together,” he continued. “I think that’s where you get the togetherness from, and I think in the future when you get more and more cars and the paddock gets bigger, maybe it gets splintered but at the moment we’re pretty united on most things.”
Ganassi’s plan to bounce back
Another team that had to get the wrenches out ahead of the Ocean X-Prix was Ganassi, which entered the season as the favorite of many, but left round one having battled a number of technical and physical challenges.
Team manger Dave Berkenfield was quick to praise the reaction of Spark in improving the car between events.
“I think it’s no secret there that we had some power steering issues [in Saudi Arabia],” he said. “We had power steering issues right from the very beginning [which] really took us out from almost every single round. We compounded that obviously with our own incidents but Spark has built a great car and they were going through some teething bugs.
“I think they were really proactive during the downtime and they really dug in, trying to figure out exactly what those issues were,” Berkenfield continued. “We think we have a good understanding of what they were now. We returned some invertors, returned some pumps, returned a bunch of stuff, replaced the [steering] rack and we’re leaving nothing to chance I guess.
“We don’t want to see the same problems here but Spark piled on and really supported all the teams in trying to sort through it. Losing power steering, our car, [Sébastien] Loeb’s car, that just can’t happen and they understood it’s critical.”
Looking ahead, Berkenfield doesn’t see the need for wholesale changes but collaboration between teams and Spark will be key to continuing to advance the series.
“This event and the last event have both been in sand so we don’t know what gravel’s going to look like, what mud’s going to look like, we don’t know how the car’s going to behave,” he said.
“Of course we all have feedback, everyone in the paddock wants to develop the ultimate race car but the point is this is not a series where we’re going to be in a technology race.
“We’re trying to make a very aggressive series from the viewer’s perspective and not have someone walk away every single race and Spark’s built a car that’s going to do that, so we don’t need to be putting a bunch of changes into it right now.
“But that’s not to say maybe a different cooling system in the next three or four years that gives you longer races, that gives you more power with less heat density problems. I mean of course that’s going to make the racing that much better, right?
“And the technology keeps getting better. All the OEMs are working on this problem, race organizations, Williams is working on it so it’s going to come. This is cutting edge stuff here, it’s a new sport.”