“The faster you go, the faster you come back,” an assistant tells Laia Sanz. There are 3 minutes left until his start and the best motorcycle rider in history, who made her crossover to the rally, doesn’t want jokes, as if he knew that a very eventful day was coming.
It is Saturday, the sun of the Atacama desert cracks the skin despite the treacherous 24 degrees that the thermal sensation marks. Right now, we go through the pits to experience the inside Copper Grand Prixthe last race of the E Extreme World Tourthe electric car rally category that is run in places with extreme climates.
The Odyssey’21 (the official championship car, a 450-horsepower SUV) from the Acciona team driven by the Spanish and defending the top of the championship, skids, raises a cloud of dust and in 4,3,2,1 seconds it reaches one hundred kilometers per hour.
The first corner is chaotic, it seems that all the cars are going to touch each other and be thrown off the track. A Hummer from the North American team Chip Ganassi rolls centimeters away from Sanz, but the Spaniard manages to get away. He got close, but a few laps later, in another tight turn, Mac Laren tags the Rossberg X Racing car and the domino effect hits Laia.
The ABT Cupra makes a spectacular turnaround in Saturday’s classification of the Extreme E in Antofagasta.
After the impact, Sanz’s car broke a connector circuit and was left out of the first test: “A stupid break and short circuit of a cable; When the bumper dislodged, the rear light cable shorted and the car stopped. This system needs to be corrected in these cars.“, the owner of the Acciona Team, none other than the Spanish Carlos Sainz, tells Clarín.
Carlos Sainz told his feelings to Clarín.
The Extreme E lives up to its name, a clear reference to the extreme climates where the circuit reaches, but also to how hard each race is run.
A couple of hours later, the Spaniard will have her revenge in the second qualifying round. After the start, the race will be head to head with the Veloce team. Acciona will be behind, until, after a head to head (or better wheel to wheel), Laia snatches first place. Losing the lead will be fatal Veloce.
The Acciona team at the Extreme E, Copper Grand Prix Antofagasta
Just four seconds mark your destiny: The Andretti team car makes a terrible roll, takes height and literally falls on the Veloce car, which a moment before had lost first place to the Spanish.
Friday’s tests were a piece of cake compared to what was seen on Saturday. Skids, jumps, spins and rollovers, at full speed. And the finals are still missing.
It’s not the moon, it’s the Atacama Desert
The Extreme E is an impressive circus that is set up in the most remote settings on the planet that have been affected by climate change. Now it is held in one of the places most similar to the lunar landscape that exists on earth, the arid Atacama Desert, but the race has already passed through Senegal, Saudi Arabia and until last year there was a date when Greenland.
A walk on the moon. The Extreme E assistance vehicles, worthy of a science fiction landscape.
“Greenland was my favorite, without a doubt,” he says. Christine GZ, with an overwhelming personality, Spanish-Italian and born in India. The 37-year-old blonde, who runs the Dakar in the team of Real Madrid goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois (Argentine Ricardo Torlaschi accompanied her last year), is a pilot and Development Driver of the competition.
“Why was Greenland my favorite? Because you found the most diverse tracks. From rock areas where you almost had to stop from one hundred to zero to great descents on black earth, spectacular jumps. You passed through sand, through water. It was like everything in one and also at that time it was a much longer track.
At Extreme E, Christine has a double role. First, wild card: if something happens to a pilot (as we saw, it would not be unreasonable) she will be in charge of replacing him. Furthermore, as a rally expert, she was in charge of the layout, the assembly of the circuit and the assembly of the Odissey’21, which is retiring this season.
“It’s amazing to compete with sustainability and with the same adrenaline as in a combustion car,” he adds.
Christine GZ, la Development Pilot del Extreme E.
The thing is, the excuse for this category is to promote clean fuels. The idea is that five days later, when everything is over, There is no trace of the rally’s passage or its 74 tents through the Atacama Desert.
For this reason, the cars are electric and the camp that is set up is totally sustainable. And that is why there is no public, so that pollution is recorded to the minimum possible.
Everything reaches this mining area that once belonged to Bolivia in the Saint Helena, a ship that travels the world carrying this “big show” on its back. Between tents, furniture, tools, power systems, solar panels, car kits of all equipment and cameras transports about six thousand six hundred tons by sea.
The “Enowa Neom” is also carried on the boat, a battery that combines liquid hydrogen with water and generates clean energy that will power each of the tents in the camp and the entire paddock.
The legendary Santa Helena, “garage” of Extreme E in London during the competition breaks, traveled almost two months from Sardinia and now rest in the port of Mejilloneson the Pacific coast, five and a half hours from the circuit.
The circus inside
We continue in the pit area. The first ten tents belong to the team paddocks. In this line that faces the track, in the last ones the different workshops: batteries, tires, suspension and scruting, where a kind of VTV is done on the cars, before leaving.
Aerial view of the circuit with the 74 tents set up for the Extreme E in Atacama.
Precisely, in scruting they try to repair the Hummer that was destroyed in the first crash. “We will try to get it to tomorrow,” says the mechanic who changes flats and evaluates breaks against the clock.
We continue walking. There is the totem of motorsport. Nothing less than Spanish Carlos Sainzthe legend of the Rally, two-time world champion, the one who competed in the most events and the third one who climbed to first place on the podium the most times in the World Rally Championship.
But now, the Spaniard is the owner of Acciona, one of the three teams that reached the end of Extreme E.
Clarín visited the paddock of the German team where César Argañaraz and Juanito Montes from Córdoba work.
“Right now I’m in another role, once the race starts I can’t do much from here. When you are behind the wheel you feel that you have everything under control,” explains Sainz, who after his accident this year confirmed to Clarín that he plans to return to the Dakar in 2024.
The two-time world rally champion was the one who created Laia Sanz’s crossover, “The Queen of the Desert”, who after winning 11 consecutive Trial championships in the women’s category, left the motorcycles to get into a rally car.
Sainz pushed him to take the wheel of the car: “Since he started, he has had a growth that I have never seen in a driver,” the Spaniard praises his pupil.
The peculiarity of this category of electric SUVs is that The teams are made up of two drivers: a man and a woman. And each one will have their moment behind the wheel. There will be two laps for testing and a change of steering wheel that may not exceed 45 seconds. Of the ten teams, The five with the best times will compete in the grand final. The other five will go for the “Redemption”, a race that gives just 8 points to the winner.
What the Odissey’21 is like inside
The official car of the Extreme E, Copper Grand Prix. Antofagasta
In Saturday’s qualifiers it was clear that the teams are not giving each other anything. Two overturns, a couple of crashes, a lot of work for the mechanics and worry for the doctors.
“The logical thing would have been for these blows to take place on Sunday, when the championship is defined and it is all or nothing. Generally, drivers take care of themselves in the first race and kill themselves in the second. Why so many hits? These are all-terrain cars, electric SUVs, that compete sheet by sheet and that causes many accidents. Visibility is key, wanting to reach the first check point and not be penalized for throwing a barrier. The funnel of the first turn, with a lot of dirt in the air, also contributes to the stick,” explains Daniel Panelo from the specialized site, SoyMotor.com and TodoFierro.com.ar.
The Odissey’21 seems to be designed to be destroyed from the outside. The fiberglass “handles” are almost disposable. But internal safety regulations cause the pilots to walk away after giving themselves incredible blows. The safety bars are made of keblar and the seat belt has five points; This causes the pilot to stay glued to the seat, avoiding major impacts. So much so, that right now Christine GZ, the Development Pilot who should replace any injured person, remains in the Fox pits, the company that provides cushioning to all the Extreme E teams.
This is how the Hummer looked after the rollover. On Sunday she will return to the track.
Welcome to the desert: a sandstorm will define the final
The Grand Final reaches its last two laps. Ekstron led both laps but Khritofferson caught up with him at the end and they entered together. Then, the unexpected happens: At the exact moment of the car change, a sand storm arises; Laia Sanz gets lost in the whirlpool, she doesn’t see where her car is. The person in charge of the Acciona team controlling the 45 seconds does not see her watch. In the midst of that chaos, Mikaela Ahlin-
Kottulinsky passes at 30 kilometers per hour (the speed allowed to the starting line where the competition resumes) and skids away. It will be there that Carlos Sainz’s team will lose the race and, who says, maybe the championship.
“We started the day thinking we were losing everything. And we missed the final in the driver change. We were on the verge of winning and we are still in the race. On Sunday we will have to go out and win,” Carlos Sainz tells Clarín, a little calmer and sitting on a bench in his team’s pits.
Carlos Sainz talks to his team in the privacy of the pits.
Tomorrow (today, Sunday) will be another day. But not just any one. From these two teams (Rosberg, 164 points, Acciona 158) today afternoon the new and final Extreme E champion will emerge, which next year will be Extreme H with hydrogen-based cars.
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