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Extreme E Desert X-Prix

Desert X Prix: Sainz XE claims maiden Extreme E victory

Mattias Ekstrom and Laia Sanz combined to deliver a maiden Extreme E victory for the Sainz XE team in the second round of the 2023 season in Saudi Arabia.

Laia Sanz, Mattias Ekstrom, Acciona | Sainz XE Team

Ekstrom, standing in for the injured driver, team owner and two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz, set up the platform for the win courtesy of a blistering opening stint in the four-lap Grand Final.

Sanz then completed the first win of her Extreme E career with a controlled drive in the second stint, the win adding to a second place finish for the team on Saturday. The winners of Saturday’s opening round, Veloce Racing, finished second, 5.527s back, while Rosberg X Racing claimed third for the second day in succession.

The all-electric off-road championship debuted its new format at the 3.4km sandy course on the Neom coast. The fastest five teams from the two, four-lap, five-car qualifying heats progressed to the Grand Final, while the slowest five male/female driver crews made up the grid for the Redemption Race.

Veloce duo Kevin Hansen and Molly Taylor won both their qualifying heats to emerge as top qualifiers for the Grand Final. The duo were joined by the Sainz squad, RXR, Chip Ganassi Racing and Abt Cupra, the latter worked until 4am to prepare the spare car for Sunday’s action due to damage sustained to their entry on Saturday.

It was the Sainz squad that made the best start as two-time DTM champion and 2016 World Rallycross title winner Ekstrom stormed into the lead.

The Swede quickly opened up a six-second advantage that he would take into the switch zone ahead of Veloce’s Hansen, who managed to pass RXR’s Johan Kristoffersson on lap 2, while Ganassi and Abt Cupra fought over fourth.

Amanda Sorensen, RJ Anderson, GMC Hummer EV Chip Ganassi Racing, battles with Laia Sanz, Mattias Ekstrom, Acciona | Sainz XE Team, at the start

Amanda Sorensen, RJ Anderson, GMC Hummer EV Chip Ganassi Racing, battles with Laia Sanz, Mattias Ekstrom, Acciona | Sainz XE Team, at the start

Photo by: Colin McMaster / Motorsport Images

Sanz made no mistakes across the final laps to complete a historic win and claim 25 championship points, while Taylor gapped RXR's Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky to finish second.

Abt Cupra snatched fourth from Chip Ganassi by running an alternate strategy that saw Klara Andersson take the start against the male drivers, before handing over to 2023 Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah for the final leg.

The Lewis Hamilton owned X44 squad narrowly missed out on claiming the final spot in the Grand Final after ending qualifying with the same qualifying points total as the Sainz XE team. However, the Sainz team being faster in the Continental Traction Challenge zone ensured X44 would have to fight for the minor championship points in the Redemption Race.

The Rodin Carlin-run squad were joined by McLaren, Carl Cox Motorsport, JBXE and Andretti, the latter’s fate signed after a DNF in Qualifying 2 Heat 1, when the team suffered a third roll of the weekend. This time Timmy Hansen hit a compression on the run to Turn 2 awkwardly, resulting in a slow roll while running third in the heat.

X44 claimed the honours in the Redemption Race after coming through a frantic encounter. Fraser McConnell, signed to replace rally legend Sebastien Loeb, led Carl Cox Motorsport’s Timo Scheider to the switch zone.

However, the lead changed when Christine Giampaoli Zonca managed to pass Cristina Gutierrez coming out of the driver change zone. But Gutierrez responded by diving up the inside of the Carl Cox entry at Turn 6 to reclaim the lead.

Emma Gilmour, Tanner Foust, NEOM McLaren Extreme E, battles with Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, Johan Kristoffersson, Rosberg X Racing, ahead of Cristina Gutierrez, Fraser McConnell, X44 Vida Carbon Racing, and Molly Taylor, Kevin Hansen, Veloce Racing

Emma Gilmour, Tanner Foust, NEOM McLaren Extreme E, battles with Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, Johan Kristoffersson, Rosberg X Racing, ahead of Cristina Gutierrez, Fraser McConnell, X44 Vida Carbon Racing, and Molly Taylor, Kevin Hansen, Veloce Racing

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

From there, Gutierrez controlled the race to take the win and secure eight championship points. Giampaoli Zonca was left to trundle home in fourth after rolling the Carl Cox entry on the final lap.

That allowed McLaren to secure second thanks to Emma Gilmour, who finished off Tanner Foust’s opening stint. Andretti managed to salvage third, while a roll for Hedda Hosas on the final resulted in a DNF for the JBXE entry shared by Heikki Kovalainen.

The championship heads to Scotland for the Hydro X Prix, the second double header of the season, on 13-14 May.

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