A tale of two halves for ABT CUPRA XE in opening double-header

MARCH 10: Klara Andersson (SWE) / Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Abt Cupra XE during the Desert X-Prix on March 10, 2023. (Photo by Charly Lopez / LAT Images)
© Charly Lopez

It was a weekend of ups and downs for ABT CUPRA XE at the 2023 Desert X Prix, as the team narrowly missed a spot on the podium in the Round 2 Grand Final, despite a damaging crash during Round 1

Off the back of their maiden victory in the Season 2 Finale in Uruguay, the opening race weekend of Extreme E Season 3 was not without its problems for ABT CUPRA XE. After a damaging roll in the first round’s Redemption Race, the team faced a time-pressured night shift to get the car ready in time for the next day of racing.

© Sam Bloxham

Nasser Al-Attiyah started the season’s campaign in Qualifying 1 Heat 1 on the Saturday. The Qatari fell to the back of the pack after contact with Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E. However, a roll for Andretti Altawkilat after the Switch Zone meant the team were able to climb the order to finish fourth.

While Qualifying 2 Heat 2 was a much more measured drive for the team, with flashes of speed keeping them in the mix throughout, Al-Attiyah and team-mate Klara Andersson were unable to make up for the mistakes made in Q1 and had to settle for a spot in the Redemption Race.

The Redemption Race was a chance to win some much-needed points, with Al-Attiyah getting a clean jump off the line to chase down NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team’s Tanner Foust in first. However, the five-time Dakar winner rolled following an attempt to pass the leader, forcing an early DNF for the team.

© Sam Bloxham

The subsequent task to recover the team’s ODYSSEY 21 was an arduous one, as it soon became clear that the nature of the repairs meant ABT CUPRA XE would have to switch to the championship car for Round 2.

It was an impressive shift and demonstration of true teamwork to get the ODYSSEY 21 prepared to race in the second half of the double-header, with Extreme E’s new race format offering a much-needed haul of points for the team.

The promise of a fresh start on Sunday initially looked at risk, when ABT CUPRA XE faced a 30-second penalty for switching to the replacement car in their first Qualifying Heat of the day.

© Sam Bagnall

To make the best of this poor starting position, the team chose a bold strategy, choosing to hang back and take on the Continental Traction Challenge in clear air. The tactics paid off as Andersson and Al-Attiyah secured the quickest time through the sector and improved their chances of reaching the Grand Final despite a P4 finish in the Heat.

This momentum was carried through to Qualifying 2, where Al-Attiyah’s aggressive overtakes meant he entered in Switch Zone in P1, 16.9 seconds clear of the pack. Andersson took over from her teammate to defend the advantage all the way to the finish. That Qualifying 2 win meant a sensational entry into the Round 2 Grand Final.

With an offset strategy the ABT CUPRA XE duo almost staged another brilliant comeback to claim a top three finish, but had to settle for fourth after missing out on a podium by just half a second.

© Colin McMaster

Nasser Al-Attiyah, ABT CUPRA XE, said: “I will keep the weekend in good memory – especially after everything that happened on Saturday. Our comeback on Sunday with a win in the Qualifying race and a strong performance in the Grand Final was at least a small reward for the guys’ efforts. We learned a lot and will be racing for trophies and wins next time.” 

Klara Andersson, ABT CUPRA XE, said: “The fact that we were able to race at all on Sunday is a small miracle and only thanks to the mega guys in the garage. We fought for a podium finish in the Grand Final until the last metre, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough. We’re still proud of our weekend and comeback and now come to the races in Scotland even hungrier for a win.”

With two races down, ABT CUPRA XE sits sixth in the championship standings with 15 points total. It will be all to play for once more when the Extreme E Season 3 action resumes on 13-14 May in Scotland.