Xavi Serra, the Head of CUPRA Racing, says the aim for the ABT CUPRA XE Team in 2021 is to win the inaugural Extreme E Championship, with this weekend’s Desert E Prix in Saudi Arabia their first opportunity to take victory.
In a world full of unknowns, CUPRA head to Saudi Arabia in high spirits and with high expectations, with drivers Mattias Ekström and Claudia Hürtgen both being given the task of fighting at the front of the Extreme E field.
As well as fighting for victories, Serra says entering Extreme E proves to the world the direction CUPRA are aiming for when it comes to reusable resources and electric cars.
“We have formed the perfect team to fight for the victory, with two top-level drivers, Mattias and Claudia, and an experienced partner like ABT,” said Serra.
“But, beyond the sporting objectives, we want to prove the direction in which CUPRA is going, facing adventures, challenges, and championing new technology. We were the first manufacturer to commit to this championship, and that is already a clear statement of intent of what the brand’s philosophy is.”
Serra says Motorsport remains high on the list of priorities for CUPRA, and they are eager to showcase their all-electric e-CUPRA ABT XE1 at the highest level of competition this weekend.
“Motorsport is a very important pillar for CUPRA and, for several years, we have been leading its technological transformation,” said Serra. “We have developed the first 100% electric racing touring car, the CUPRA e-Racer, which is preparing to compete in the new PURE ETCR championship.
“But not only the competition is electrified, so is the street: CUPRA has announced that the CUPRA Born, the brand’s first 100% electric model, will arrive in 2021 and the Tavascan, in 2024.
“Extreme E, in addition to electrification, promotes other values that CUPRA fully agrees with, such as sustainability and gender equality. We are facing a totally different concept, which will leave its sustainable legacy wherever it competes, it will reduce staff in races, trips are made by reducing emissions…
“Last but not least, the Extreme E will also allow female drivers to compete in absolute equality of opportunities.”
Extreme E ‘Will Surprise People’
Serra believes the introduction of Extreme E to the rallycross world will surprise many people, particularly when it comes to the equality of the teams and drivers and across gender boundaries.
The races are relatively short, but Serra feels they will be extremely close, particularly with minimal modifications allowed to almost identical cars, and visually spectacular.
“The Extreme E will surprise people because of several factors,” he said. “The first thing is the equality that will exist between teams and drivers of both genders.
“It’s going to normalise something that I think is very necessary. The cars are the same and the modifications that can be made to each one are minimal. This will allow us to see races whose result will be unpredictable, with short races, and visually, it will be spectacular.
“I think it will remind us of the end of some Dakar stages, with cars in the middle of the desert and minimal differences between them.”
The format of the weekend has also been a talking point, with nine teams competing for outright honours across two days. Heats will take place on Saturday before the semi-finals and final on Sunday. Serra says it will be a competitive competition, although the ABT Cupra XE Team will be eyeing the final and outright victory.
“The organisers have already published the competition format, with a qualifying system on Saturday, in which groups of four and five cars will face each other, and a semi-final and final Sunday,” said Serra. “Depending on the position in which the teams finish in the qualifying rounds, points will be assigned, and the grid will be formed for the two semi-finals, which are held the following day.
“In Semi-final 1 four cars will participate, of which three will go to the final round, while in Semi-final 2 there will be five… but only two will qualify; It will be very competitive and that is why they call it “Crazy Race”.
“The five cars that have qualified participate in the grand final and the starting position of each of the teams will be chosen by the fans from their homes, using the “Gridplay” voting system. In each of the rounds both drivers will participate in absolute equality: each one will complete a lap and the final position is what will count.
“The section will be 8.5 kilometres long, at an altitude of about 800 meters, which will be delimited by flags. We do not know the width of the track or the relief, but we do know that the cars will be able to squeeze all their power, without having to take their foot off the gas to reach the end. At CUPRA we have always championed this sprint format and Extreme E fits perfectly with our philosophy of short, exciting races with tight battles.”
Logistics ‘One of the Greatest Challenges’
Serra says the team have been working hard since testing at Aragón at the end of last year, although the teams and drivers have been unable to test since before Christmas.
This means they go into the season with plenty of things to learn and understand, particularly how to work on the cars with just five people per team.
“After the Aragón tests, where the teams saw each other for the first time and were able to get the most out of their respective vehicles, we have been working on data analysis to reach the best possible level in the first race,” insisted Serra.
“We have not been able to test with the car again, since after Christmas the organization loaded it onto the Santa Helena ship, which carries all the equipment from race to race, to take it to Saudi Arabia. Logistics has been one of the great challenges we have had to work on, since there is a very limited space in the transport, and we have had to carefully select what we should send to the competition site.
“We have also had to reorganize the functions of each member of the team, since in each of the X Prix there is a limitation of five people per team who can participate directly in the development of the activity. All the work must be divided between these five members: three mechanics, an engineer and a team manager, in our case.
“During these months we have kept in contact with our drivers, Mattias and Claudia. In addition to analysing all the data collected in the tests and preparing for the competition, they have been physically training and preparing in the simulator.
“Rapid adaptation to the championship is another of Extreme E’s challenges. The drivers – like the rest of the team members – are used to completing thousands of kilometres with the car with which they are going to compete in a certain championship. Here, however, efficiency is pushed to such a limit that the drivers will reach the first race with just a few days of testing with the car with which they will try to fight for the title.
“But it’s the same for everyone, so the ability to adapt and go fast from the first minute will be key. One more detail: before going out to compete in the first classification, the drivers will only go around the competition stage, as a ‘shakedown’ and do a start test with other cars alongside.”