The very first season of a unique, brand new motorsport, Extreme E, kicks off live air sports this weekend.
Don’t know what it’s about? Then read on – here are all the important questions answered by Sky Sports presenter David Garrido.
So, what exactly is this ‘Extreme E’?
Extreme E is an exciting new motorsport, racing all-electric SUVs off-road in five different locations on diverse, challenging terrains. These locations are in some of the most remote places on Earth, and they were chosen because these places have been devastated by the effects of climate change.
As such, in addition to the sporting spectacle, Extreme E has been deliberately set up to spotlight the destruction of the planet and inspire people, businesses and venues to take positive steps in climate action. The use of electric vehicles is part of the solution and also gives teams and manufacturers the chance to test and demonstrate their latest automotive technology.
This sport is the brainchild of Alejandro Agag, a Spanish businessman who was previously involved in Formula 1 with drivers such as Romain Grosjean and who also founded Formula E, the all-electric single-seater in the city center.
Who is involved?
There are nine teams, each with a male and a female driver (gender equality is another pillar of Extreme E), including household names from many different motorsports.
We have three Formula 1 World Champions as team owners: Lewis Hamilton (X44), Nico Rosberg (Rosberg X Racing) and Jenson Button (JBXE), who is also a racing driver.
Also among the drivers are former World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb, who won nine consecutive titles between 2004 and 2012, and two-time winner Carlos Sainz, who has three Dakar Rally crowns to his name.
Rallycross is mainly represented by the Swedish trio Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen and Mattias Ekström who have won the last five world titles together.
As for other British interests, Jamie Chadwick is the current W Series champion and a development driver at Williams F1, while Catie Munnings won the Ladies Trophy at the European Rally Championship in 2016. The other Briton involved is Oli Bennett, who won seven out of nine races in the 2017 British Rallycross Championship.
Behind the scenes, there are further F1 ties with McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown as team principal of Andretti United, while Adrian Newey, Chief Technical Officer at Red Bull Racing, and ex-driver Jean-Eric Vergne are both at Veloce Racing.
How does racing work?
All the action takes place over two days. On Saturday, all teams will run two qualifying runs of the course, with the male and female driver each doing one lap and a switchover (known as ‘The Switch’) in between. Each of these runs will total approximately 18 kilometers, and their combined times will yield an order.
From that order, the fastest three teams will advance to the first semi-final race on Sunday, the middle three teams will compete in another semi-final called the ‘Crazy Race’ and the slowest three teams will race in ‘The Shootout’. From that first semi-final, the top two finishers advance to the final, along with the winner of the Crazy Race. In the final, the winner of the race is simply crowned as the XPix winner.
Points are awarded by placing, as you move from first (XPrix winner) to ninth place (third finisher in ‘The Shootout’).
There are other unique features to make racing even more exciting, such as ‘Hyperdrive’: whoever makes the farthest jump on the first jump of each race will get an extra speed boost and that team will also receive an extra championship point.
There will be no fans attending the races (to minimize the series’ carbon footprint), but the ‘Gridplay’ feature allows them to vote for their favorite driver to gain a grid advantage. The team that gets the most votes can select their roster position for the final, but if they’re not in it, they can donate their votes to another team of their choice. The team with the second most votes gets the second pick of the grid spot, and so on.
As part of Extreme E’s sustainability commitment, each vote also includes a micropayment to the master’s charity/Legacy program. (More on this later.)
Where are the venues for the races?
Brace yourself, this is going to be quite a worldwide expedition.
There are five different locations for the races in the inaugural season of Extreme E, all themed around different remote locations and related environmental issues. They will start in AlUla in Saudi Arabia for the Desert XPix in early April and move to Lac Rose in Senegal for the Ocean XPix at the end of May.
Then there’s a gap of about three months for round 3 in Greenland on the Russell Glacier at Kangerlussuaq (Arctic XPix) in late August, and then we head south – to Santa Maria, Belterra in the Pará region of Brazil for the Amazon XPrix in October and finally Tierra del Fuego in Argentina for the Glacier XPix in mid-December.
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What is the car they use?
It’s called the Odyssey 21 and it’s essentially an oversized electric buggy. The vehicle is manufactured by Spark Racing Technology and again Formula 1 is involved, with McLaren supplying the powertrain and Williams supplying the electric battery, while Continental supplying the tyres. It was unveiled to the public at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June 2019 and then had quite the run-out at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in January 2020, with Ken Block finishing third in the final stage in the car category. Not a bad debut.
The fact that it is electric is important not only for the way it is powered, but especially for its weight. It’s a 1,650 kilogram, 2.3 meter wide beast, and yet it races up to 60 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds. With 550 brake horsepower, the Odyssey 21 can reach a top speed of 120 miles per hour and handle slopes of up to 130 percent.
Very minimal adjustments to the cars can be made by teams, basically limited to bodywork, but of course each team has its own specific livery. As an electric SUV, it is much quieter than its petrol or diesel combustion engine equivalent, but it also has instant torque and very fast acceleration. The drivers I spoke to also praised the handling, but one of the drivers told me that one of the challenges is just getting the thing to stop… because of its weight.
How are the batteries of the cars charged? They also have a super-low-carbon solution for that: hydrogen fuel cells. This innovative idea from the British company AFC Energy uses water and sun to generate hydrogen. Not only does this process emit no greenhouse gases, the only by-product is water, which will be used elsewhere on site.
Want a fun fact about the car? Of course you do. Please: The energy stored in the battery in the Odyssey 21 could keep 2600 cell phones charged for a week.
How do the cars get to the locations?
A-ha! This is another twist, and arguably one of the series’ main unique selling points.
They will be transported from site to site aboard the RMS St. Helena, a former Royal Mail passenger freighter that has undergone an extensive refit to transform her into the operational hub of Extreme E.
But moving the cars isn’t her only goal. In addition to serving as a ‘floating paddock’, the St. Helena will transport all other necessary equipment to the race locations, a crew of 50, and will also house labs where scientists can conduct invaluable research into climate change and ocean pollution and contribute to the old championship schedule (more on that later), and the sustainability cause.
By choosing the seas over the sky, Extreme E’s logistics footprint is reduced by two-thirds compared to airfreight travel. And there are other examples too. The ship’s propulsion units and generators run on ultra-low-sulphur diesel, the St. Helena uses energy-efficient LED lighting, energy-efficient bathroom accessories and even seats made from recycled plastic bottles collected from the Mediterranean. Every little bit helps.
So, what are these old programs you mentioned?
In addition to environmental awareness and gender equality, Extreme E also aims to make a tangible impact, by leaving the locations it will visit in better condition than how it found them. To this end, it will be involved in local activities so that it can make a meaningful contribution to the recovery of these climate change-affected areas in various ways.
In Saudi Arabia, for the Desert XPix, they support the Great Green Wall initiative that aims to create a barrier of trees and protective landscapes across the Sahel-Saharan border, and the drivers will also support a local turtle conservation project. attend. In Senegal, the legacy program will support marine protected areas to try to protect and revive aquatic diversity, as well as plastic clean-up initiatives in Dakar, and the drivers will help plant mangroves – a million trees have to be planted over 60 hectares.
The same is true for Greenland, where Extreme E will support the area’s plans to fully transition to 100% clean energy sources and join forces with UNICEF Greenland to educate children about the impacts of climate change; the Amazon region, where they will work with existing conservation organizations to protect and replant an area of agroforestry so crops can be harvested by locals; and finally the southernmost tip of Argentina, where the ice is receding at an alarming rate. If this continues, most if not all of the cirque glaciers in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego will disappear in the next two decades, and both the valley glaciers and the Patagonian ice sheets will be severely reduced.
Okay, I’m in. Where can I watch Extreme E?
All sessions from all race weekends will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Action and/or Sky Sports mix, kicking off with the first qualifying session from Saudi Arabia on Saturday, April 3 at 7:00 a.m. BST.
In addition, Sky will air ‘Electric Odyssey’, a 20-part epic transglobal magazine show series aimed at an environmentally conscious audience with a passion for adventure, which will help fill the gaps between the five rounds of racing.
This unique Extreme E journey has just begun and it promises to be an extraordinary, exciting and impressive eight months both on and off the track.