For motorcycle champ Laia Sanz, Extreme E will be extreme learning curve for racing cars


(Editor’s note: Second in a series highlighting drivers such as Laia Sanz in Extreme E, which will begin its inaugural season this weekend in Saudi Arabia)

As a 10-time starter in the Dakar Rally and the highest-finishing woman in its vaunted motorcycle division, Laia Sanz would seem at home in the sands of Saudi Arabia.

But as Extreme E begins its inaugural season this weekend on the Arabian Peninsula, it’s not so much the terrain as the traction that will make this a monumental challenge for Sanz, who will be teamed with three-time Dakar champion Carlos Sainz on the Acciona/Sainz XE team.

Sanz has won more than 20 championships in outdoor motorcycling enduro-style events, but she hardly has raced on four wheels during her career.

EMPOWERING WOMEN: W Series champion hoping Extreme E will continue momentum

“Everything! I’m a beginner,” Sanz told NBC Sports when asked about the most difficult part of the transition she will make in Extreme E. “Of course the riders switching to cars, we have the feeling and are used to the speed, and all these things are good. But everything is new. We have two more wheels! You need to understand how it’s working with a car and suspensions, and I need to get experience.

“And in this championship, there will be contact (between vehicles). We’ll start together. It’s even worse for me because I’m not used to having contact with opponents. In enduro, you fight against chrono — against time. You’re never in a direct fight with your opponents.”

Motorcycle enduro champion Laia Sanz and rally legend Carlos Sainz will be teamed on the Acciona/Sainz XE team in the Extreme E Series (The Crown Creators).

Sanz also will be racing in an Odyssey 21 electric SUV against opponents with vast and versatile experience from Formula One, rally and sports cars. But she will have the tutelage of Sainz, a two-time World Rally Championship winner and considered a national motorsports hero in their home country of Spain. At 58, he remains highly competitive in his fifth decade of racing, finishing third at Dakar this year after a victory in 2020.

“Carlos called me, and as you can imagine, I was in shock because I’ve been following him since I was really young,” Sanz said. “I’ve been always a big fan of rallies. For sure it’s super nice to be with him on the team.

“His career is so long, and he won different kind of races with different cars. He’s really respected in Spain because he’s still there competing at his age and still motivated and pushing. For sure, I’ll try to learn fast because I know he’s super competitive and always wants to win. This time it’s also really important with what the girls are trying to do. So I’ll try to learn fast.”

Laia Sanz got acclimated to the Spark Odyssey 21 electric SUV during preseason testing at MotorLand Aragon (Jordi Rierola/Extreme E).

Sanz, 35, has been competing on bikes since she was 6, finishing a career-best ninth in the 2015 Dakar Rally, but will be new to the concept of team competition, as well as Extreme E’s gender equitable format in which the female and male driver count equally toward the results.

“This will be really interesting,” she said. “For sure in motorsports for us, it’s not easy. I feel lucky that I’ve been in factory teams in Dakar, but I have to work so hard to prove a lot of things. And this time it’s nice, we have a nice chance to prove we are competitive, and for sure, in my case, our performance will be important as Carlos’ performance. This is nice but for sure also a bit of pressure.”

She has prepared by making her first start in an off-road race this year in Dubai, racing a Side by Side (a buggy that she describes as halfway between bike and car). Sanz is hopeful that Extreme E could be a springboard to moving eventually into the car class at Dakar.

“Of course, I think I need time to learn,” she said. “I know I can learn a lot because if you tell me 15 years ago, that I could be here now, for sure I don’t believe it. I also switched from three wheels to rally bikes and got good results in Dakar.

“I think with hard work, I can learn a lot, but I need time, and this series it’s for sure an amazing chance to be close to Carlos and learn a lot. For sure I’ll fight to be in a car in Dakar in the future.”

NBC Sports is proud to celebrate Women’s History Month.
For the latest in women’s sports news and features all year round:

Bookmark the On Her Turf blog:

Follow On Her Turf on Twitter and Instagram

Seattle Supercross by the numbers: Three riders separated by 17 points


Three riders remain locked in a tight battle with 17 points separating the leader Cooper Webb from third-place Chase Sexton and these are only a few Supercross numbers to consider entering Seattle.

Seattle Supercross numbers
Chase Sexton made a statement in Detroit with his second win of 2023. – Feld Motor Sports

For the fifth time in 10 rounds. Sexton, Webb, and Eli Tomac shared the podium in Detroit. Between them, the trio has taken 23 podiums, leaving only seven for the remainder of the field. Jason Anderson, Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia have two each with Aaron Plessinger scoring the other.

Webb and Tomac won the last four championships with two apiece in alternating years, but they were not one another’s primary rival for most of those seasons. On the average, however, the past four years show an incredible similarity with average points earned of 21.0 for Webb and 21.3 for Tomac. With five wins so far this season, Tomac (23 wins) leads Webb (19) in victories but Webb (43) edges Tomac (41) in podium finishes during this span.

Tomac has won two of the last three Seattle races and those two wins in this stadium are topped only by James Stewart. Fittingly, if Tomac gets a third win this week, he will tie Stewart for second on the all-time wins’ list. Tomac tied Ricky Carmichael for third with 48 wins at Oakland and took sole possession of that spot with his Daytona win.

Sexton still has a lot to say and after winning last week in Detroit, he is speaking up. The Supercross numbers are against him entering Seattle, however, because a points’ deficit this large after Round 10 has been erased only once. In 1983 David Bailey was 47 points behind Bob Hannah, and like Sexton he was also in third place. Bailey took the points’ lead with one race remaining.

The seven points Sexton was penalized last week for jumping in a red cross flag section in Detroit could prove extremely costly.

In fact, it has been a series of mistakes that has cost Sexton the most. In the last two weeks, he lost 10 points with a 10th-place finish to go with his penalty. Erase those, and all three riders hold their fate in their hands.

Plessinger’s heartbreak in Detroit is still fresh, but the upside of his run is that was his best of the season and could turn his fortunes around. Prior to that race, he led only seven laps in three mains. He was up front for 20 laps in Detroit with five of those being the fastest on the track.

Last week’s win by Hunter Lawrence tied him with his brother Jett Lawrence for 17th on the all-time wins’ list. With the focus shifting to 250 West for the next two rounds, Jett has a great opportunity to pull back ahead. The real test will be at the first East / West Showdown in East Rutherford, New Jersey on April 22.

Last Five Seattle Winners

2022: Eli Tomac
2019: Marvin Musquin
2018: Eli Tomac
2017: Marvin Musquin
2014: Ryan Villopoto

2022: Hunter Lawrence
2019: Dylan Ferrandis
2018: Aaron Plessinger
2017: Aaron Plessinger
2014: Cole Seely

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

How to Watch Seattle Supercross
Dylan Ferrandis may return before SX finale
SMX develops “Leader Lights”
Power Rankings after Detroit
Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan
Results and points after Detroit
Chase Sexton wins in Detroit, penalized seven points