Lotus Engineering battles the Senegal sand for JXBE Extreme E
Lotus Engineering is technical partner to Jenson Button’s JBXE Extreme E race team, and sent Matt Bloomfield – one of the Chief Engineers – to Round 2 in Dakar, Senegal, to support the quest for glory. Here’s his race report:
“Round 1 in the Saudi Arabian desert was a learning curve for Jenson and the team management, and it helped identify gaps in their technical knowledge. They knew they needed someone to help optimise the preparation of the EV off-roader. EVs are my day job at Lotus, building on the experience we’ve had developing the Lotus Evija as we move to an all-electric future for the company.
We had a number of reviews with the JBXE team following Round 1 as the technical partnership started to gel. It was clear that the best way to identify the opportunities to collaborate successfully was for me to experience Round 2 in person. I packed my bags and joined the team at Heathrow Airport.
Once on site – and functionally we were in the middle of nowhere – my role was to absorb what was going on, what information was available to the team, what feedback we were able to work through with the drivers, and provide any support possible to the performance engineer and team manager. I wanted to understand how the car was working, looking for ways that we might make it go faster or things we would want to change. But it was also about generally mucking in with the team to get the car ready for racing.
Right from the moment it was announced, Extreme E stated that the series would be about drawing attention to the world’s climate issues. It’s also minimising the impact it has on the locations it’s travelling to… and that means the race weekend is very condensed. I guess that’s what makes the series so challenging. This was only Round 2 in the inaugural season, so you’ve got new cars, new drivers, new tracks and everyone has to work out how all that comes together.
I was away for more than a week and my highlight was Sunday morning – the Crazy Race semi-final which JBXE won by some distance. We had gradually been improving each time we took the car out and it all came together at that point. First up, driver Kevin [Hansen] gave us a great start and Mikaela [Åhlin-Kottulinsky] kept it going. To add an extra dimension of excitement, the power in the Control Centre failed while the cars were going through Sector 3, so the team ran outside and timed the cars manually to keep Mikaela updated on her position.
After the high of that win, and comparing our sector times to the other finalists, the whole team were really looking forward to the chance to compete strongly for a podium position in the final. We had a great start that put us in P1, but just before the first corner there was contact as another team got shunted into Mikaela and it bent our rear suspension. At that point then people started coming past. Mikaela was fighting hard and in the first corner the back end let go completely. She managed to drag the car just far enough before stopping for us to secure P3 overall.
Everyone was really disappointed. The changes we’d done were visibly making a difference, and we’d made some more for the final. We were really confident going in and genuinely believed we had a chance. The team that eventually came second we’d already beaten once. Sadly everything turned on a split-second impact that was out of our control, but that’s what happens sometimes.
It was a fascinating experience for me personally, and was excellent for the growing relationship between Lotus Engineering and JBXE. I’ve returned with a range of ideas that Lotus can bring to bear in supporting the team in future rounds. One of the key challenges is the rapid determination and implementation of changes driven by the nature of the competition format. This is one of the areas where Lotus can support the team by engaging its chassis expertise with driver feedback to identify the most effective changes to make. Discussions are going on – I can’t say anymore!”