Team X44 topped the first qualifying session for the Ocean X-Prix in Senegal as the top three were covered by just over 10 seconds throughout the session.
Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez’s 10m47.289s run was 4.23 seconds quicker than Chip Ganassi Racing’s Sara Price and Kyle LeDuc, who bounced back after a tricky start to the season in Saudi Arabia. Abt Cupra was third fastest despite being investigated for a driver change infringement – an investigation that ultimately didn’t yield any penalty.
It was Loeb who ran first for the Lewis Hamilton-owned team and immediately laid down a marker, beating previous pacesetter Mattias Ekström’s times in the first two sectors of the lap.
After the switch, Cristina Gutierrez continued to gain time, becoming the first driver to dip below two minutes in sector two – the super sector that will be worth an additional five points during racing tomorrow.
Despite X44’s best combined two-lap, two-driver time, LeDuc – who ran second for Ganassi – was arguably the most impressive individual driver in the session.
Taking over from Price after her conservative opening lap, LeDuc mirrored his fine practice form by setting the fastest split times in every sector. His final sector was 5.1 seconds quicker than the next best as he opted to use his hyperdrive boost on the return to the beach, while the consensus among the rest of the field was to use it there at the start of the lap.
Abt Cupra, running the series’ designated reserve Jutta Kleinschmidt in place of the unwell Claudia Hürtgen alongside Ekström, had a strong run in third.
Like Ganassi they needed to impress after sustaining crash damage at the Desert X-Prix, and Ekström immediately set the fastest opening lap time at the point he ran.
When Kleinschmidt took over, she began her lap down on time in the first two sectors, but was a full second quicker than Rosberg X Racing’s Molly Taylor in sector three.
RXR had been the fastest team before Cupra, and was followed by X44 and Ganassi onto the track.
Johan Kristoffersson and Taylor, winners of the Desert X-Prix, were fourth fastest for RXR and 15s off the top, while JBXE’s Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Kevin Hansen (deputising for an absent Jenson Button) rounded out the top five.
After failing to complete qualifying at round one, Veloce Racing was sixth fastest. Jamie Chadwick ran first, running her first competitive lap of the season before handing over to Stephane Sarrazin.
Xite Energy’s Oliver Bennett and Christine Giampaoli Zonca ended up seventh. It wasn’t a trouble-free run for the recently rebranded team, with Bennett slowing at the end of his lap after knocking the pit limiter after going over a particularly aggressive bump.
Acciona Sainz’s Laia Sanz stopped on track after a heavy landing caused what was described by Spark as an “electrical” issue.
She briefly got the car going again but stopped moments later, her run ending in section 22 in sector two.
Prior to Sanz getting behind the wheel, Carlos Sainz had set a strong pace, with the fifth-fastest opening lap time, while Sanz had taken 23s out of first runner Veloce before her stoppage.
Andretti United also stopped on track, albeit at the end of Timmy Hansen’s opening lap. His power cycle was successful though, allowing him to complete his run – but losing 3m24.2s as a result of the stoppage – and hand over to Catie Munnings.
UPDATED: Kleinschmidt was later found to have in fact entered the driver change area too early and as a result Abt Cupra has been demoted a spot to fourth with a 15s penalty.
1 Sébastien Loeb/Cristina Gutierrez (X44) 10m47.289s
2 Sara Price/Kyle LeDuc (Chip Ganassi) +4.239s
3 Johan Kristoffersson/Molly Taylor (RXR) +15.021s
4 Mattias Ekström/Jutta Kleinschmidt (Abt Cupra) +25.833s
5 Kevin Hansen/Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky (JBXE) +26.116s
6 Jamie Chadwick/Stephane Sarrazin (Veloce) +50.310s
7 Oliver Bennett/Christine Giampaoli Zonca (Xite Energy) +1m05.517s
8 Timmy Hansen/Catie Munnings (Andretti United) +3m52.376s
Ret Carlos Sainz/Laia Sanz (Acciona Sainz) +1 lap