Extreme E’s Saudi Legacy

Last weekend’s Extreme E burst onto the motor racing scene with an enthralling opener in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. But whilst Rosberg X Racing’s Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor were (metaphorically) tearing it up on the track, important environmental work was happening off it. In the build-up to the inaugural round, Extreme E placed heavy focus on to the championship’s desire to leave a positive, lasting impact on the local environment. They claim that not only will each event be completely carbon neutral, but a “legacy program” will also be set up in each location.

For the Saudi Arabia X-Prix, desertification and plastic pollution were the main areas that were focused on, with the legacy program seeing Extreme E support the Ba’a Foundation to help with turtle conservation on the Red Sea coastline. In particular, the program aims to protect the endangered Green turtle, and the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle, both of which are suffering from entanglement, rising sand temperatures, and nest flooding due to rising sea levels. Many of the drivers also took part in a clean up of the Ras Baridi beach.

The drivers have come together to support Extreme E’s causes off the track – Courtesy of Charly Lopez

At the start of each session, the all-electric off-road series broadcast information regarding the issue of desertification, and how it is affecting local communities. Desertification is the process by which fertile land is transformed into a desert, typically brought on by drought, rising temperatures, or improper land management. The effects of this can be catastrophic. As the deserts grow, the amount of land available for farming crops diminishes, which results in the loss of food for the community and increases famine. The amount of available water is also reduced, and Extreme E regularly highlighted this across the weekend.

Throughout its first race weekend, Extreme E also implemented several other measures that ensured it would be the most sustainable sport possible. No single-use plastics were used on site, communal water stations were placed, and food packaging was made from Polymateria (a biodegradable plastic). The batteries themselves were charged using hydrogen fuel cells manufactured by AFC Energy. These are completely emission free and only have water as a byproduct. The water from the fuel cell was collected and either used to clean the cars, or shared between local communities. AFC Energy also signed a memorandum of understanding with Altaaqa, operator of a large mobile diesel generator rental fleet, meaning both companies share a common goal of transitioning the region away from fossil fuel dependence, and towards zero emission energy. This, however, is not legally binding.

On the whole, it appears that Extreme E’s inaugural event was a big success both on and off the track. It is already clear that the series doing many things to ensure the only trace they leave is a positive legacy.

Extreme E: Alejandro Agag praises spectacular inaugural Desert X Prix but suggests changes will be made to the series

Alejandro Agag had nothing but praise for the way the first race of Extreme E’s history panned out, but is not afraid to look at ways in which to modify the format going forward.

The inaugural Desert X Prix was won by Team RosbergXRacing and their drivers Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor following an incredible cut-back manoeuvre on X44’s Sebastien Loeb which inevitably decided the race. This in part was due to the large amount of sand dispersed by the SUV’s on track which made visibility incredibly difficult for the following cars.

In the end, most of the races were decided by turn two and saw a consistent gap of 30 seconds between the drivers leaving something to be desired by fans who were expecting more dramatic and closer racing. In fact, some fans took to social media voicing their concerns about the format and the consequences for broadcasters when racing on sandy and snowy terrains.

Cristina Gutierrez (ESP)/Sebastien Loeb (FRA), X44, Courtesy of Charly Lopez

Prior to the weekend changes were made to the format, opting for a time trial qualifying session rather than a race. This was in response to reliability concerns after Chip Ganassi suffered an almost fatal accident in the first shakedown session. The series were worried that not enough cars would survive the weekend and in hindsight, this was the appropriate move. It is therefore within reason to suspect the series organisers will evaluate the first race and make improvements for the weekend in Senegal.

On potential changes to the series, Alejandro was open to the idea: “Yes. I am thinking of tweaks. I have two tweaks in my mind,” said Alejandro during the post-race press conference.

“I love the shootout. I am thinking that maybe that I do a draw, a lottery for who races. So we mix female and male drivers in all the races. Because otherwise, we are seeing that the teams are lining up all the men at one point and the woman second.”

All but Hispano Suiza XE used their male drivers first during the time trials on Saturday. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from this weekend is that the calibre of female talent is more of a match for any man out there. Stars such as Molly Talor, Catie Munnings, Christina Gutierrez and Laia Sanz proved more of a match for their male counterparts and really put themselves firmly on the map for motorsport fans worldwide.

“I think what we’ve seen today from the female drivers have been extraordinary,” Alejandro added.

There’s incredible talent and also incredible courage to see Catie with that tyre, fighting with the car and bringing the car to the finish line. How well Molly did on the race today. We have incredible talent here, and I am really happy that we have a platform. And believe me today, many millions I’m sure many millions are watching.”

|Photographer: Jordi Rierola|Event: Preseason Testing|Circuit: MotorLand Aragon|Location: Alcaniz|Series: Extreme E|Country: Spain|Season: 2020|Keyword: 2020|Team: Andretti United Extreme E|Car: Spark ODYSSEY 21|Driver: Catie Munnings|

On potential alterations to the Senegal Beach X Prix, Alejandro Agag will personally oversee an evaluation in the interim period: “We will go to Senegal and we will check the dust level there.”

“We’re going to check with SUVs and see what the level of dust is, and then we’ll take some decisions. I want to listen again, as many people in our ecosystem as I can like I did yesterday.”

As with the birth of any motorsport series there are always going to be changes made along the way. This is an ambitious and unprecedented task and any decision in terms of format will be largely a leap of faith, in part due to the lack of testing they are able to do. There is still enormous potential and growth to come from Extreme E.

What we have witnessed this weekend is a dream actualised. Alejandro Agag has been able to achieve a proof-of-concept and show the world that a sustainable, electric SUV rally series is possible. Alejandro is open to suggestions and improvements and that can only be a positive for a championship in its infancy.

I personally cannot wait for the next race in Senegal on the 29th-30th May!

Alejandro Agag: “This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

When the new FIA Extreme E (XE) World Championship begins in the desert sands of the Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia this weekend, it won’t just be simply the start of another racing series but a revolutionary concept whose on-track glammer is matched only by its lofty off-track ambitions.

Cast your minds back to January 2019, during the official announcement on the cold, rainy and wintery deck of RMS St. Helena. The motorsport world gathered in anticipation for what was to come. A new championship.

Alejandro Agag, CEO of both Formula E and Extreme E unveiled his dream, an off-road electric SUV racing series that would travel the world to draw attention to climate change through environmentally friendly racing.

The series will take place in five remote locations affected by climate change, where all the equipment and cars are transported by a ‘floating paddock’ cargo ship, which will also serve as a laboratory for scientists to conduct research and enact conservation projects.

The St Helena logistics ship. Courtesy of Colin McMaster.

Each team features a male and female driver who must take turns throughout each race, and competitors can earn a boost by performing big jumps and winning online fan votes.

Throw in a strong driver line-up including F1 champion Jenson Button , multiple-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

Courtesy of Extreme E

Something that fascinates me is the incredible mixture of young and established names in motorsport with the likes of Carlos Sainz Snr, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi involved in the series in some way. These personalities and brands are essential to providing Extreme E with a credibility amongst hardcore motorsport fans.

One the other hand you have Veloce Racing, a tech firm and esports squad taking its first step into real-world motorsport. Younger audiences will be familiar with their esports exploits but will inevitably follow with intrigue their transition into the physical world.

It carries the same energy as when ‘new money’ from the Industrial Revolution joined the ranks of the traditional aristocratic and landed gentry of Britain in the 18th century. We are seeing a blurring of the lines of what a traditional race team can look like.

Whether you are a racing ‘super-fan’, an environmentalist or a travel connoisseur, Extreme E has something for everyone.

Alejandro Agag, CEO, Extreme E, with all the drivers lined up in the background. Courtesy of Steven Tee.

But do not just take it from me, take it from the man who set up the whole series. During the official press conference Alejandro Agag spoke about his thoughts on the season opener:

“It would have been impossible to organise this race without our hosts and the teams” said Alejandro on the Friday morning before the opening qualifying session. “it’s an incredibly happy day for me. Many people did not think this was going to happen, that is true, this is quite out of the box.”

“This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

On the future of Extreme E Alejandro was keen to highlight that set it apart from the Formula E championship: “They are very different. Which one will be bigger? Who knows? They can both become very big, of course, I am keen on both.”

“In terms of manufacturers in season one (Formula E) we had Mahindra, Audi had support with Abt, Renault had support with DAMS. However, already here we have two in season one. We have Cupra, Hummer and Lotus which may become a full partner in the future.”

Importantly, as we have seen with Formula E manufacturers tend to come and go. This has left Alejandro with a philosophy which favours independent teams over manufacturers. With a strong independent line-up including teams owned by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Veloce, Nico Rosberg, Carlos Sainz Snr and many others, there is certainly a freshness and originality to this grid.

“There are very significant manufacturers who are interested in Extreme E. But you have to build championships independently of manufacturers because when they go, they go. […] Manufacturers are not necessary.”

On which team are the favourites going into the inaugural season, Alejandro was coy, suggesting a competitive title battle:

“Ganassi was looking strong, even though they had a technical problem this morning. But outside of them it looks really open. If I had nine dollars I would put one dollar on each of the other nine teams.”

There have been some minor last-minute alterations to the format in response to reliability. A qualifying race will now be replaced by a series of time trials on Saturday that will form the grid for the semi-final, crazy race and final showdown on Sunday.

On reliability, Alejandro played down his concerns:  “I’m not too concerned. “

“(During testing) 18 out of 20 cars broke down. Here this morning two out of nine broke. I hope no car breaks tomorrow but that’s part of racing. I have to say if seven out of nine cars broke this morning I would be concerned.”

International Women’s Day 2021 – Extreme E: An Introduction to the Women

Equality in motorsport is something that every racing series is striving towards, especially on a day like International Women’s Day. From grassroots programmes like Dare to Be Different by Suzie Wolff to an entire Formula 1 support series for women, introducing women to a male-dominated sport is something that is making the headlines left, right and centre. 

Extreme E is a sport that is promoting equality from the outset by having one male and one female driver in each team. The entire aim of the series is to have the best combination of people working on the car and behind the wheel and not having their gender dictate their opportunities.

Each driver will be behind the wheel of a Spark ODYSSEY 21 which is an electric SUV with a power output of 400kW, about 1.5 times more powerful than a World Rally car. 

Claudia Huertgen

Credit: Extreme E | Photographer: Charly Lopez

Claudia Huertgen is most well known for being successful in touring cars and winning the ADAC Total 24 Hours of Nurburgring in the SP10 class, driving a BMW M4 GT4. She has also taken part in the ADAC GT Masters trophy. At 41, she is one of the older drivers in the field but her expertise will help her as she battles through the field for the Abt Cupra XE team.

Laia Sanz

Competing for the Spanish Acconia Sainz XE Team, Laia Sanz is a thirteen-time women’s time trial world champion in outdoor motorcycle trials but has recently taken part in the Dakar Rally finishing at a high of fifteenth place in 2016. She has also taken part in the 24H of Barcelona, winning her class in 2011. Her off-road experience only brings more knowledge to the team as she will race alongside the team owner and rally legend Carlos Sainz.

Catie Munnings

Catie Munnings is a British rally driver and former TV presenter. She has taken part in the European Rally Championship and contested both the Under 27 and Ladies categories. Previously, she presented a children’s television show showcasing fast and large vehicles and explaining their use in life. As a Red Bull sponsored athlete, she has been able to use this backing to encourage women to take part in rallying and she also plays a role, alongside Suzie Wolff, in the Dare To Be Different campaign.

Sara Price

Credit: Extreme E | Photographer: Charly Lopez

Hailing from Riverside, California, Sara Price began racing at age eight and now has medalled at the X Games multiple times in the motocross categories. Previously, she has completed in the Stadium Super Trucks series which races in America and Australia, with a highest finish if fourth. She is the first female driver racing for Chip Ganassi Racing in their history and we hope that she isn’t the last.

“When I put a helmet on you know I often get this question, ‘how is it being a female in a male dominated sport?’, and I say, ‘I’m not a female I’m not a male, I’m just a racer.’ “What Extreme E is doing right now is pretty incredible. It is going to be able to provide girls who have incredible talent that’s never been seen before, a chance to showcase it – that itself is huge for women as well as for motorsport.”

Christine Giampaoli Zona

Christine Giampaoli Zonca was a member of the first all-female rally team to take part in a WRC event and does more than just drive a car. She has a Bachelor’s degree in motorsport engineering technology from the University of Birmingham and regularly prepares her own car for events in which she takes part in. Her future plans include racing in the 2022 Dakar Rally along with Hispano-Suzia Xite Energy Team in Extreme E.

Molly Taylor

Molly Taylor is an Australian Rally driver who won the Australian Rally Championship in 2016, both the youngest and only female to do so, and finished as runner up in the following year. Along with this, she was the first female accepted into the Australian Motor Sports Foundation and is the only non-Brit to win the British Ladies Rally Championship, doing so in both 2009 and 2010. She is no stranger to competing in off-road situations and her knowledge bodes well for Rosberg Xtreme Racing.

“One of the great things about motorsport is that when you put the helmet on it doesn’t matter what gender you are and that’s always been my philosophy. But what I have noticed through competing, is the number of young girls that when they see a female competing, they then want to be involved – so I think having that exposure at the highest level is really important to help improve the diversity and equality for the next generations coming up. If [Extreme E] can help change the amount of girls that are involved in racing at grassroots level and therefore what the future of our sport looks like, I think it’s really important for that reason.”

Jamie Chadwick

Credit: Extreme E | Photographer: Charly Lopez

Jamie Chadwick is arguably the most well-known female driver taking part in Extreme E so far, having won the inaugural W Series championship, being a member of the Williams Driver Academy and racing with Prema Powerteam in the 2020 Formula Regional European Championship, to name a few things. Coming from an original background in GT racing, she understands the skill needed to drive a powerful car and working with the Veloce team and is an exciting addition to the series.

“Extreme E is definitely a leap into the unknown for me, having only previously driven single-seaters and sportscars, but I’ve never shied away from a challenge. The first time I tested the car, I knew I wanted to race it – an electric SUV is a large vehicle, yet the stunning power it produces when you put your foot down makes it exhilarating to drive. The fact that Extreme E is also committed to gender equality is just the icing on the cake. Winning the W Series was fantastic – and huge for my career – but I want to prove that I can beat everybody at this kind of level, which means men and women alike. The prospect of going up against the likes of Jenson Button and Sébastien Loeb – I mean, these guys were heroes to me when I was growing up – is incredible. If you want to succeed in sport, as in life, you must be prepared to really push yourself. That is exactly what I am doing in Extreme E and I cannot wait to get started!”

Cristina Gutierrez

Cristina Gutierrez was the first-ever Spanish woman to finish the Dakar Rally in a car and in 2021 became the second woman to win a Dakar stage. Her expertise stems from competing in the Dakar rally and the Spanish Women’s Off-Road Champion since 2012. Racing for Team X44 is a great addition to her career thus far.

The first X Prix takes place in Saudi Arabia on the third and fourth of April and all of these women will be able to show their skill set on a level playing field with the men in the series.