Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Sebastien Loeb to fill in for Nasser Al-Attiyah at Island X Prix

Sébastien Loeb and Nasser Al-Attiyah are rivals in the World Rally-Raid Championship, but are more than happy to help each other out when needed. With Al-Attiyah continuing his quest for the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas on 8/9 July, Loeb will substitute for him in the #125 ABT CUPRA XE machine at Extreme E‘s Island X Prix.

Ironically, the scheduling conflict is between races in Italy as the Cross-Country Bajas is running the Italian Baja in the northern part of the country. The Island X Prix takes place on the island of Sardinia west of the Italian Peninsula.

Loeb is the reigning Extreme E champion, winning the 2022 title for X44 alongside Cristina Gutiérrez with a victory in the Copper X Prix. He was replaced by series reserve driver Fraser McConnell for the 2023 season as X44 switched from Prodrive to Carlin for technical support; Loeb races for Prodrive in the W2RC.

With Loeb and Gutiérrez, the latter also a W2RC racer, X44 finished sixth and second in the 2022 Island X Prix doubleheader. In joining ABT CUPRA, he will partner with Klara Andersson, whom he races against in the FIA World Rallycross Championship.

“I’m looking forward to returning to Extreme E after two seasons in the past,” said Loeb. “It’s a competition that’s similar to rallycross, so I think I’ll be on the pace and ready to fight. It’s also going to be great to discover a new team and meet up with Klara again.”

Al-Attiyah is in his second year of Extreme E competition, finishing ninth in the championship as a rookie with a victory in the season finale alongside Andersson. Four races and two rounds into the 2023 season, ABT CUPRA is ninth in the standings with a best finish of fourth in Desert X Prix #2, during which the team also scored a heat win.

The Desert X Prix is held in Saudi Arabia, which currently hosts the W2RC’s opening Dakar Rally. Al-Attiyah and Loeb have been the top drivers at Dakar, respectively finishing 1–2 in 2022 and 2023, though Loeb won seven stages and a record six in a row at the latter. After three rounds, Al-Attiyah leads the W2RC while Loeb sits third, though there have been musings about the latter not running the next race in Argentina due to a lack of financial backing for Prodrive.

In the Cross-Country Bajas World Cup, Al-Attiyah is two-for-two after winning the Ha’il International Rally and Qatar International Baja. While his perfect run so far has given him a sizable cushion over his adversaries, with second-placed Juan Cruz Yacopini having 51 points to Al-Attiyah’s 80, he does not want to take any chances in skipping races as he pursues his second Bajas title. Al-Attiyah also won the inaugural W2RC crown in 2022, which came after five championships in the preceding World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

Al-Attiyah is a four-time winner of the Italian Baja with previous victories in 2008, 2015, and 2016.

“Nasser leads the FIA Baja World Cup with two wins and has asked to be allowed to contest the third round on the same weekend. We want to make that possible for him,” said ABT team boss Thomas Biermaier. “We are happy that together with CUPRA, we managed to sign Seb as a great stand-in. Having the record world champion and reigning Extreme E champion on our team is an honour. We are all looking forward to the weekend in Sardinia. We want to have a lot of fun together, but also be successful from a sporting perspective; the goal is clearly a win.”

Having raced in Extreme E every year since its inception, Loeb has a pair of wins. He and X44 placed runner-up in 2021.