How Extreme E is Reshaping Racing
Extreme E is a new motorsports series debuting this year, with its first race this weekend on the 4th of April. But where does it fit in into the present motorsports sphere? In short, everywhere and nowhere.
Extreme E is hardly the first example of off road racing, and with the introduction of Formula E back in 2014 it isn’t the first venture into electric motorsports either. There will be nine teams competing across five races this year, with the championship standard car the Odyssey 21 E-SUV. The entries are star-studded with not only famous drivers such as Jamie Chadwick, Sébastien Loeb and Jenson Button, but also prominent team owners - the closest we may ever get to another Hamilton-Rosberg showdown!
But that is pretty much where the similarities stop. Firstly it has a radical race format, which has been described as something akin to ‘Star Wars Pod racing meets Dakar Rally’. The five locations it will be visiting - succinctly named the Desert, Ocean, Arctic, Amazon and Glacier XPrix - are vastly different, challenging the drivers in different ways every time. There will be two laps completed per session per team with a driver switch in between. The race format is also new: there will be a qualifying, semi-final and final, but what stands out is the ‘Crazy Race.’ On Sunday, the top three teams from Saturday qualifying go into the semi-final, of which two win a spot in the Final. But the Crazy Race allows the 4th, 5th and 6th teams to get another shot at the final, where the winner gets to graduate. Then of course points over the weekend are allotted and cumulated to form the championship standings. In addition to all of that, there is a jump on the track. The driver who completes the longest jump that lap will secure the Hyperdrive boost, extra power to inch that much further away from their pursuing competitors.
Extreme E is also making unprecedented moves to promote female racers. Gender equity has been an issue in motorsports ever since its conception, and Extreme E wants to be the first to change that. Teams will race with one male and one female driver, completing a lap each to form their final result. Katherine Legge, one of the racers in the Drivers’ Programme said, “Hearing the format was like waking up on Christmas morning. It is a giant step in the right direction for motorsport as a whole. I have been looking forward to something like this my entire racing career!”
In regards to why this format was developed, founder Alejandro Agag revealed, “the idea came from tennis, the mixed doubles: the women and the men are equally important for victory. So I thought, 'let's make both do one lap and we do the races of two laps'. Then, it doesn't matter who goes faster, both are key for the victory and they will be both standing on top of the podium.” The success of this idea is plain as day - organisations scrambled to find the most successful drivers to form the best combination for their teams. Agag continues, “it's fascinating because now we're really getting into it. They were telling me female drivers have never felt so in demand since we announced the format of Extreme E and [its] gender equality action.”
Lastly, one of Extreme E’s biggest (and perhaps main) goals is to “maximise environmental impact, but maximise awareness.” The SUVs will be powered with a hydrogen fuel cell, meaning that they are zero-carbon. Extreme E has partnered with AFC energy to develop the revolutionary charging generator, with its only by-product being water that can be reused onsite. The championship will also operate out of the St Helena, a former cargo liner that will transport every part of the series to each event. In short, she will be both a floating paddock and scientific hub for the duration of the season. The St Helena has been refurbished to cut down on its emissions, which will cut down a projected two-thirds of emissions compared to air travel. The onboard laboratories will also allow the group of acclaimed scientists among the crew to perform research along the way.
The series will also not sell tickets for a live audience. Instead the races are broadcast to allow viewers to watch remotely in the hopes of limiting carbon footprints and preserving each location. The GridPlay function also allows fans to dip their feet into the action. Votes for teams are tallied up in the week before each XPrix, and the winners get to select their grid position in the Final. In the event they are not a part of it, they can gift their votes to another team. This choice system will be new within motorsports, but gives the fans a better sense of engagement and creates excitement and competition before the race weekend even starts.
"Extreme E's greater goal is to leave only positive legacy behind"
Another strength of Extreme E is the locations it will visit, which are areas that have existing environmental damage. Of course audiences will be treated to racing on sand, dirt and ice, but Extreme E hopes that proximity to such places will bring attention to their situation. With a motto like “we race without a trace”, they aim to leave no physical evidence of racing but instead a new sense of advocacy and awareness. The panel of scientific experts (consisting of graduates from universities like Oxford and Cambridge) will also coordinate the series’ Legacy Programme.
Louisa Tholstrup will be leading this initiative, and says that it aims “to provide both social and environmental support in each of our locations. We want to involve as many of the local community as possible, and we’re focusing on providing long-term renewable energy solutions including solar, and wind power.” There will be a project for each of the 5 race locations, addressing a specific issue that is relevant to the area. For example, the first Legacy Project was recently carried out in Al-‘Ula, Saudi Arabia, the location of the Desert XPrix and first race of the calendar. Extreme E will be supporting the conservation of turtles in the Red Sea alongside the Ba’a Foundation.
With these three factors in play, Agag has truly created a groundbreaking series. Extreme E have made it clear that their "greater goal is to leave only positive legacy behind." Hopefully this inspires both further equity and environmental consciousness in all other areas of motorsports, and the technology developed here can be transplanted into both racing cars and everyday uses. I genuinely believe that Extreme E will be a refreshing series to watch, and I can’t wait for race day to come.
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