Veloce and Sainz share Extreme E lead after opening weekend
With a win and a second-place finish each, Veloce Racing and Acciona Sainz came away from Saudi Arabia's Desert X Prix double-header first in the standings, level on 46 points.
The spectacular Saudi Arabian course took the drivers down to the NEOM beach, where, looking for every tiny amount of grip on the sand, the drivers occasionally dipped a wheel into the sea— a spectacular venue to open the third season.
It was a memorable weekend for Veloce. When Rosberg X Racing were penalized for speeding under a yellow flag in Round 1, Veloce were promoted to their maiden win in Extreme E, ahead of Acciona Sainz and the demoted RXR.
Equally, it was a special, albeit bittersweet opening event for Acciona Sainz. Double-World Rally Champion and team founder Carlos Sainz was still recovering after fracturing his spine at the Dakar Rally, but Mattias Ekström proved an excellent replacement alongside Laia Sanz. Acciona Sainz only narrowly snuck into the Round 2 Grand Final but still pulled off their debut win.
Last year's last-gasp winners, X44 Vida Carbon Racing, left the desert dunes in fourth with just half the points tally of the leading two teams, while RXR sit third after standing on the podium's bottom in both Grand Finals.
As they pushed the limits of the course in the first Qualifying heat, Laia Sanz ended up going for a brief paddle before Klara Andersson's misjudgment sent her for a swim in the Red Sea. Both drivers made it out of the water, but their excursions warned the rest of the grid not to play with the tide.
A revised format for 2023 sees each team compete in a pair of Qualifying heats, with the fastest half of the grid battling for victory in the Grand Final while the others fight over the remaining places in the Redemption Race.
Extreme E designed those Qualifying heats to induce as much wheel-to-wheel racing as possible earlier in the race weekend. The change seemed to pay off in the very first heat as Acciona Sainz's Ekström glued himself to the bumper of RJ Anderson's Chip Ganassi car throughout the first stint, producing perhaps the tightest battle of the weekend. That fight and the two brushes with the shoreline made for an eye-catching start to proceedings.
Veloce, Acciona Sainz, RXR, X44, and No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing contested Round 1's Grand Final. A flying start for RXR's Johan Kristoffersson gave them the lead, which they held to the end of the race, only to be later demoted for speeding under yellow flags.
Incidents for X44 and Chip Ganassi forced them out of the running, as Veloce kept RXR honest up front, and Acciona Sainz were just off the pace in third.
The Redemption race proved to be another battle of attrition, with Andretti ALTAWKILAT Extreme E, ABT Cupra and JBXE all retiring. Andretti rolled for the second (and, unfortunately not the last) time during their desert weekend before Nasser-Al-Attiyah tumbled onto his side while fighting for the lead with the NEOM McLaren Extreme E car.
After a red flag to recover the stricken cars, a limping JBXE car was forced out of the running, leaving McLaren relatively unchallenged ahead of Extreme E newbies Carl Cox Motorsport.
In Round 2, the leading trio of RXR, Acciona Sainz, and Veloce all made it through to the Grand Final, once again, joined this time by Chip Ganassi and Andretti.
Ekström showed his class to run away with the lead, emerging from a frenetic first few corners where the drivers each took a different line as they tried to get the better of each other. Veloce squeezed past RXR for P2 and held off their rivals, while Nasser-Al-Attiyah made a two-wheel overtake for P4.
X44 took the lead early in Sunday's Redemption Race and eventually came out on top after a long tussle with Carl Cox motorsport before the new team rolled out of contention. JBXE suffered yet another DNF to round off a disappointing weekend for Jenson Button's team.
The leading three teams' displays will be a worry to the rest of the field, many of whom already have a lot of work to do to close the gap to the front. They will be comforted by knowing how quickly things can change in Extreme E – after all, X44 came out of nowhere to snatch the championship victory from RXR last season.