As one of the first teams to have joined Formula E back in season 1 in 2014, Abt followed Alejandro Agag into his new adventure of Extreme E as ABT CUPRA XE. For their Extreme E effort, touring car and sportscar veteran Claudia Hürtgen was first announced as the female driver alongside Mattias Ekström. Claudia only competed in the first event in Saudi Arabia, she was replaced by Championship Driver Jutta Kleinschmidt due to illness during Ocean X Prix, and has subsequently withdrawn from the team after Ocean X Prix due to time commitment from Extreme E incompatible with her role within BMW. We talked to Claudia before Ocean X Prix. Let’s see what the veteran has to say about her short journey with Extreme E.
All photos © Extreme E
Before starting her career in touring car and sportscar, Claudia Hürtgen also followed the karting to single-seater route, moving all the way up to Formula 3. However, an injury sustained during Monaco Grand Prix weekend in 1993 cut her single-seater career short. The end of her single-seater career didn’t mean a farewell with motorsport. In 1995, Claudia started competing in touring car events, and soon after also kicked off her legendary endurance racing career.
Like Le Mans spirit, much of endurance racing’s beauty is in the teamwork. The whole team working together for the win. This has been an important point for Claudia in the past 20 years in her career. “Endurance racing is attractive because of the competition, with the whole team. You all work together, doing pit stops and so on. Everything must look perfect if you want to succeed. Of course, the cars are also great. During my first time competing in 24h Le Mans in 1997 in Porsche GT2, it was really nice for me to drive for GT2 at the time. It was another step for me in my career, from Formula 3 and touring cars to GT cars.”
Extreme E also happens to be a team sport, and Abt is a familiar team for Claudia. The overall package made Claudia decide that this is a challenge worth taking on. “In the middle of last year, Abt Technical Director Florian Modlinger called me. He was my engineer in GT racing back in 2010 through 2012. He asked me if I’d like to come and test for their special project, which would be different cars from what I’d driven before. I said ‘why not?’ The people at the test were great. After about six weeks for the test, he called me again and asked me whether I’d like to join the new project. At that moment I was working with BMW in Munich so I checked with BMW and got the green-light from them. It was really nice to have the option to go with Abt together on this new project. It was clear that Mattias would be my teammate and he’s the right teammate for me. Extreme E is a new project in motorsport. Of course, it will be a big challenge for me. But we live for this. I like the challenges. I like to try new things. It was the reason why I say the whole package will be fine for me.”
This is a new team put together by Abt. Mattias has a lot of experience in rally so it was really easy for us to start because he told me everything. It was nice testing with him because he was quite fast and experienced. He was also open-minded.
The championship is new for everyone. For Claudia, getting to know the car is the first step. When Odyssey 21 is not available for testing and training, she started with getting used to rally cars. “In our first test with Abt, it was for me the first time to drive a buggy. It was raining like hell, but the feeling was quite good. Before the races, I was in the NASA camp in Spain training with a buggy. I was also in Austria to train on the Rallycross track with rally cars. I concentrate more on rally cars and also on four-wheel-drive cars.”
Odyssey 21 is only available for the team in the Aragon test and in each race. In other times the cars are shipped around on St. Helena. In the short encounter with the car, Claudia has been really impressed. “When I saw Odyssey 21 for the first time, I said ‘wow’. It was quite a big car, with big tires. In the test in Aragon, I was sitting in the car thinking ‘oh, it’s quite big, quite high’. The seat position for me was new too. I knew it would be tough, but it was really nice to accelerate the first time with the car. There was a lot of power in the car. Normally when you are just there for the first time in a car, you would see the seat is not right, the steering is left, and so on. But it was really nice for me to say ‘I feel good’ from the get-go with Extreme E.”
The car feels great in the first test, the format of the race, however, took some getting used to for Claudia. “We had a track walk on Thursday, we can check the seven kilometers of the circuit. Then we had one shakedown lap and not more. On Saturday, your second lap on the track is your qualifying lap. It’s quite different for me because normally I go out for one information lap and then followed by a few laps at the beginning of the event. This is how you learn the track. It is also a very long lap, comparing to a normal circuit which is around four to five kilometers. We now know the most important thing for the weekend would be the track walk on Thursday. We need to have information about the track layout. We will go out with the GoPros and film everything and mark everything, possibilities to go right or go left, the big jumps. We need also for the engineers to grab a lot of information for the car out of this one hour. This way we will have a lot of material to learn after the track walk.”
Outside of her racing, Claudia has been the Chief Instructor of BMW and MINI Driving Experience, leading more people to find the way of pushing their BMW M to the limit on famous European circuits. As an instructor, being fast is important, but not the most important. Being able to point out what’s right and what’s wrong in one’s driving and explain the racing line, is the most important. “I have a long history in this kind of business. I started quite early with this in around 1997/98. So we’ve spent years ahead. For me, it’s quite easy to talk about what I feel and what I see. When I see somebody who’s driving around the racetrack, I can see what they are doing right or wrong extremely fast. I can describe what the main points are to go safe and fast. A good instructor is someone who can go into the important things, like how to steer the car, how to break the car, how to accelerate. Of course, I can also go fast for one lap or we learn the track with the participants, but I don’t think a good instructor is necessarily the fastest on the track.”
As one of the trailblazers for women in motorsport, we of course asked Claudia for advice to young girls wishing to become racing drivers. “Work on everything and not only for the driving on the track. Fight for the championship at your current level before moving on to the next thing. Female drivers need to concentrate 200% to win races and championships. Winners are the ones in the spotlight. You stay for two years in one championship, then when you start the second year, you must try to fight for the championship. You know you have the right level for the next step when you can win the current championship. I see 15-year-old girls in F4, but they have never won a championship in karting, or they go directly into GT3 or GT4, but their speed is not there. For me, it doesn’t matter if they are 18, 19 or 20, 21 when they are in F3, when they come to F3, they must be prepared for winning races. Your attention, all day, every day, must be on winning the championship. Where can I improve and be better? What do I need to work on? It’s not only the driving on the track. You need to focus on the technical side and know how the car works as well.”
Even though Claudia no longer competes in Extreme E, we would still leave her answer to ‘why should people follow Extreme E’ here. “It’s a new art of motor-racing, it’s a new challenge for motorsport, It is a combination of most amazing cars and most amazing remote locations. We are all racing drivers, and we are here to bring this new kind of racing into motorsport.”
Next month on the 5th, after Arctic X Prix, we continue with our Extreme E Drivers’ Series.