The first season of Extreme E kicks off in March, and the teams are scurrying to secure the best off-road pairings possible. With nine teams on the grid, each having to hire one male driver and one female driver to contest each Extreme E race, top off-road talent is quickly filling up the lineups. On Friday Lewis Hamilton’s X44 team (above) announced its driver pairing, leaving only HWA Racelab and Team Techeetah without a driver announcement.
As it stands, the team owned by 7-time Formula 1 champ Lewis Hamilton is looking like it has the top driving talent picks on the grid. Team X44 has hired 9-time WRC champ Sebastian Loeb, and 4-time Dakar finisher Cristina Gutierrez to run in the big purple machine. Pretty much everyone has heard of Sebastian Loeb, considering his 79 WRC wins and further three Race of Champions victories. He also has wins in touring cars, and podium places at Le Mans and Dakar. Gutierrez proved herself in regional Spanish rally championships, and has taken on the grueling Dakar four times, finishing all four.
Veloce Racing thus far has only announced the Jamie Chadwick side of their garage. The 22 year old W Series champion has extensive experience in tin tops and sports cars, as well as open-wheel machinery, but has not yet proved herself as an off-road star. Perhaps this is her opportunity to do just that.
The other former Mercedes F1 champion, Nico Rosberg, has a team as well. The Rosberg Xtreme Racing team has hired a pretty stacked team as well. With three-time FIA World Rallycross champ Johan Kristoffersson and Australian Rally Champion Molly Taylor onboard, there’s lots of skill in this team when it comes to dirt driving and loose surfaces. How they’ll handle sand and snow is yet to be seen.
American team Chip Ganassi Racing has hired the only all-American lineup including short-course off-road and Baja champion Kyle LeDuc and SCORE champ Sara Price. Both are extremely talented, and it’s probably true that American off-road motorsport is perhaps the most competitive crucible you could possibly use to forge your talents. How these two can hold up to the European champs is yet to be seen, but given the similarities between the Extreme E Odyssey 21 electric SUV and a SCORE trophy truck, I’d say they’re in with a shout.
Angl0-American team Andretti United Extreme E has scored Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings to drive their car in 2021. Hansen won the 2019 FIA World Rallycross championship and has been racing in rallycross since 2011. Munnings is a second-generation rallyist, racing in the European Rally Championship since 2016. She is also a television presenter in the UK, so she should have the media savvy necessary for such a fan-focused series as XE.
The ABT Cupra XE team is the only one thus far with manufacturer support from Spanish brand SEAT’s electric performance arm. Mattias Ekström will partner with Claudia Hürtgen for the team with most umlauts. Ekström has Swedish Touring Car, DTM, and FIA World Rallycross titles to his name from an extensive 28-year career. Hürtgen has won at Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Daytona, touring car championships in Germany and Austria, and a VLN endurance championship. This is another team to keep an eye on.
The series was only expecting eight teams to join the grid in 2021 thanks to the hell that 2020 has been on racing team budgets. But then, just a couple of weeks ago, The ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team stepped out of the shadows with Carlos Sainz (the original) and Laia Sanz on board as drivers. Carlos Sainz needs no introduction as a two-time WRC champ and defending Dakar Rally overall victor (plus three more wins). Sanz, some 24 years Sainz’ junior, was six years old when Carlos won his first WRC championship. She is a world-renowned endurance motorcycle rider with dozens of titles under her belt. Sainz is getting a bit on in years, but clearly he still has plenty of talent.
This is already a stacked grid, and there are still five more seats to be filled. I’m seriously looking forward to how this championship plays out. Big names, big backers, and very fast drivers will make for a great series. I hope this one can maintain the momentum in the way that Formula E has managed to.