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Extreme E is the world’s newest motorsport category, and it has the potential to help the car industry make the next generation of electric cars more exciting to buyers.
As the automotive world shifts towards electric vehicles (EVs), and specifically electric SUVs, Extreme E could be used to make these types of cars appealing to a wider audience in a similar way the World Rally Championship (WRC) turned the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza WRX STI into hero models.
Extreme E is unlike any other form of motor racing, pitting teams of male-female drivers against each other in time trials and then side-by-side races through some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet – all in a bid to help combat the effects of climate change.
The opening event, the Desert X Prix as it was known, was held in Saudi Arabia and generated a buzz on social media around the world with its never-before-seen action. Australia’s Molly Taylor made history as the first winner of an Extreme E X Prix, taking the chequered flag with teammate Johan Kristoffesson for the Rosberg Xtreme Racing team; founded by 2016 Formula 1 world champion and now green technology investor, Nico Rosberg.
“It’s pretty cool to be part of this journey at the start of something that I think has an amazing future,” said Ms Taylor, the first woman to win the Australian Rally Championship. “This series is really throwing the traditional rule book out of the window and starting afresh, and I think everyone will agree it was spectacular to watch. The male drivers we have here are the best in any motorsport category in the world, so it’s an awesome opportunity for us female drivers and a real investment in the development of female racing talent. This is just a dream come true all-round.”
Extreme E comes from the same team that created Formula E, the all-electric single-seater series that has attracted entries from Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar and BMW as car makers look to push their green credentials.
While all the Extreme E vehicles are the same Odyssey 21 buggies, Spain’s Cupra and America’s Hummer have already signed up to support the series by branding a pair of cars; Cupra with long-time Audi partner ABT Sportline and Hummer with America’s Ganassi Racing.
But Extreme E is more than just racing electric SUVs in the desert, it has set itself up as an ideal platform for brands who want to promote both EVs and a wider climate message by covering all angles of the debate.
For starters, the cars are shipped to each venue in a converted mail boat, the St Helena, to reduce carbon emissions and avoid burning loads of plane fuel. All the buggies are charged using a hydrogen fuel cell, rather than a diesel-powered generator, which means the cars are genuinely zero emission.
The organisers have even looked at the smaller details, taking only essential personnel to the events (for example, the television commentators record from a studio not on location) and using communal water stations to fill reusable water bottles as single-use plastic is banned. The series even has “bin police” ensuring everyone recycles the correct way.
While Formula E is restricted to cities, Extreme E allows the series to highlight the impact of climate change in the real world. The Desert X Prix was run in the Saudi Arabian dunes to highlight desertification, the continual drying of desert areas.
Alejandro Agag is the founder and CEO of Extreme E, and the mind behind Formula E, and believes that his latest creation can go beyond sporting boundaries.
“The weekend delivered on its promise of exciting racing, but more importantly our mission to race without a trace and leave a long-lasting positive impact,” he explained. “I’m very proud of what we have achieved in Saudi Arabia, from our talks on the St Helena by world-renowned scientists focussing on the global climate crisis and solutions, through to our turtle conservation project with the Ba’a Foundation.
“Extreme E is much, much more than just motorsport and I hope people have taken away from it that the climate crisis is a major issue we are facing right now, and that there are many small actions we can take to save the planet.”
But that’s not all, Extreme E has created a Scientific Committee of independent climate experts to ensure all areas are left undisturbed by the racing and that practical and long-lasting programs are introduced in the region of the race to help solve the issue the X Prix is highlighting.
Richard Washington is Professor of Climate Science at Oxford University is part of the Extreme E science team and was on-site in Saudi Arabia as the desert expert.
“Accepting the invitation to be involved as a scientist in Extreme E took all of 30 seconds,” admitted Washington, “inspired projects like this only come your way once in a blue moon.
“Racing electric vehicles powered by 100 per cent clean energy in hot and dusty extreme desert environments is the sort of demonstration we need to accelerate the adoption of new climate friendly technologies. Sport strives to break boundaries, to cross seemingly impossible thresholds, often in a team setting. That is also what we need to do to solve the climate problem. Extreme E is a convergence of these endeavours.”
The holistic approach of Extreme E makes it an ideal platform for car makers to show off not only green initiatives but also showcase the upcoming flood of electric SUVs that will be hitting showrooms.