Lewis Hamilton has joined former Formula 1 team-mate and arch-rival Nico Rosberg in becoming a title-winning Extreme E title owner, as his X44 outfit came from far back to overhaul Rosberg’s RXR team in the season two finale.
Having lost out on the title via a tie-breaker in the inaugural season of the electric off-road racing series, the Prodrive-run X44 team retained nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez as its roster in the series – which mandates a mixed male-female two-driver line-up for each team.
Meanwhile, RXR replaced Molly Taylor with Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky after its championship season, and the newcomer won two of the three first races of the 2022 campaign alongside incumbent Johan Kristoffersson.
The pair enjoyed a 17-point cushion in the standings heading into the finale of the five-round season, taking place in Uruguay’s Punta del Este – a former race location for fellow electric series Formula E.
Both RXR and X44 had their weekends compromised by rolls in Saturday qualifying, denied entry as a result into the two main semi-finals and instead both going into the third one – the ‘Crazy Race’, which features four cars instead of three and only puts one car into the final instead of two.
A scary moment for @crisgutierrez! 😨 #ExtremeE #EnergyXPrix pic.twitter.com/klGnZO6HzQ
— Extreme E (@ExtremeELive) November 26, 2022
For X44, the damage was so substantial that the team had to swap to the championship’s spare Odyssey 21 chassis, which entailed a five-second penalty. The team threatened to appeal this, angered that the penalty would have to be served in the ‘Crazy Race’ rather than in qualifying as it expected, but ultimately dropped the appeal “in the sprit of ensuring the final result of the season is not called into question or prolonged by undue administrative delays”.
Troubles for the two leading outfits gave a sudden potential path to the title to the two other teams that came into the weekend with outside title hopes – GMC Ganassi and Acciona Sainz.
Yet that was snuffed out in the two main semi-finals. The Ganassi car, which lost a door in the first semi-final, was denied a place in the final by time penalties. As for the Acciona Sainz entry, Laia Sanz was nudged out of the way by Andretti’s Katie Munnings and then tipped into a double-roll while fighting McLaren’s Emma Gilmour for final transfer spot – with the time losses from the rolling too severe for either Sanz or two-time World Rally champion Carlos Sainz to recover.
Legendary stuff here from Laia Sanz!
Recovers from a DOUBLE BARREL ROLL and CARRIES ON! 😱
Unfortunately their championship fight ended in Semi Final 1 #ExtremeE #EnergyXPrix pic.twitter.com/ZFahotiBK5
— Extreme E (@ExtremeELive) November 27, 2022
It was therefore whittled down to just RXR versus X44, and the former was in big trouble immediately as the last-chance ‘Crazy Race’ began.
Ahlin-Kottulinsky was tapped into a half-spin by Xite Energy’s Tamara Molinaro and hit by Hedda Hosas – representing another F1 champion Jenson Button’s JBXE team – as a consequence. Another contact with Hosas followed a corner later, and the RXR car ultimately came up limp with damage, crawling back to the switch zone – XE’s pitlane equivalent – before getting disqualified for exceeding the permitted number of mechanics in the switch zone.
Disaster for Rosberg X Racing in the Crazy Race 😱
Contact ❌ Damage ❌ Disqualification #ExtremeE #EnergyXPrix pic.twitter.com/w3rGB5RB5V
— Extreme E (@ExtremeELive) November 27, 2022
All that meant the X44 car – its title hopes aided by Loeb strategically slowing up in qualifying on Saturday to ensure clean air and then pushing hard to all but guarantee the five bonus points for the weekend’s fastest time in the designated Continental Traction Challenge part of the track – needed to finish in the top three in the five-car final to win the title.
It failed to do that on the road. Loeb took the lead round the outside of Turn 1 at the start but was re-passed by Dakar legend Nasser Al-Attiyah and then dropped back into the pack, ultimately settling into fourth place.
Neither he, nor Gutierrez, who barged into the Veloce car of the returning champion Taylor after the stop, could battle past the Andretti car up ahead, but a time penalty for switch zone speeding was announced for Andretti on the final lap – and it meant all Gutierrez had to do was follow Munnings home.
This secured X44 the title by two points.
The race was ultimately won by Al-Attiyah and team-mate Klara Andersson, the first female podium finisher in World Rallycross history, for Abt Cupra – while the McLaren duo of Tanner Foust and Gilmour scored the programme’s maiden podium to cap off its debut season.