Loeb helps Hamilton's X44 team top Extreme E qualifying

Al-Ula (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) –


Lewis Hamilton's X44 team on Saturday set the fastest qualifying time for the inaugural race of the Extreme E championship, which features electric SUVs racing in remote parts of the world.

X44, led by nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez -- the second woman to win a Dakar Rally stage -- came ahead of triple Dakar winner Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz in the deserts of Saudi Arabia after the two qualifying runs.

"We couldn't have hoped for better. It was a great battle and we realise that it's not going to be easy," Loeb told AFP.

Former Australian rally champion Molly Taylor and Swede Johan Kristoffersson, a three-time world rallycross winner, took third place for 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg ahead of the semi-finals and final on Sunday.

"We had some wild moments in qualifying 1, but we managed to keep it pinned to go fastest and have a strong run in qualifying 2 to make it through to the semi-finals tomorrow," said Taylor.

Former F1 champion Jenson Button's team finished in sixth while three of the nine teams were unable to take part in the second qualifying session -- Veloce and Cupra following two spectacular accidents and Chip Ganassi due to a technical problem.

Stephane Sarrazin, a former Le Mans 24 Hour race winner, emerged unscathed despite a frightening barrel roll for the Veloce team.

"The cars are not easy to drive, as soon as you lose it, they roll," said Loeb.

The brainchild of Spanish entrepreneur Alejandro Agag, Extreme E will attempt to highlight the environmental dangers posed to some of the world's most remote regions.

After this weekend's Al-Ula round, the competition will switch to Senegal's Lac Rose, Greenland, the Amazon in Brazil and the glaciers of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina.

As well as setting up environmental legacy projects in the five areas, the series also insists it is promoting gender equality with each team dividing up duties behind the wheel for their male and female drivers.