Extreme E hasn’t been afraid to set its ambitions high. Essentially, it wants to change the world.
The manifesto on the series’ website reads: “The goal is to use electric racing to highlight remote environments under the threat of climate change issue, and to encourage us all to take positive action to protect our planet’s future.”
Unlike XE’s older brother Formula E, the series goes beyond bringing the idea of electric vehicles to the masses and heads to the areas that most need the world to take climate change seriously. And there are no spectators – the environment takes precedence over the traditional motorsport format here.
Not satisfied at just leading the way in electrification the series also has its sights set on tackling motorsport’s gender equality issue.
And so far it’s more than matched these expectations it’s set itself. Top-name drivers from across motorsport? Check. Events at some of the most ecologically vulnerable locations on the globe? Check.
And as Andretti United’s Catie Munnings told DirtFish, it’s all very exciting…
“[XE is] one of those things where once you start talking about it you almost just brush over the racing side, that’s pretty normal to most of us. The things that come up in conversation are the diversity and the climate change and the action we are doing around it,” Munnings says.
“It’s amazing that this championship has got top tier racers involved, it’s like Race of Champions when you look at the line-up and the teams that are involved. It’s really cool to see all of those people congregating and collectively putting their awareness into it and bringing their platforms to the championship.”
Although XE isn’t the first series to go all-electric, it is still part of this group of early converts that hopes to ease the public’s transition away from petrol. Education around electric vehicles is the championship’s raison d’être and, quite aside from producing compelling racing, it is on this that they are asking to be judged.
“Electric is the future now. People are putting it off and there’s a lot of debate around it but when we look at where the money is going – from sustainability and the manufacturers’ point of view – from a brand point of view this will be the future,” Munnings continues.
“Other championships are making steps in this direction and what I liked about being in this series at the beginning is that it’s a frontrunner, it’s leading the pack in that way and ahead of the game in terms of the marketing deals and broadcast deals. It will be an established series in the electric world much faster than the other championships.
“As a driver, the future of motorsport will be electric, whether that’s next year or in a few years’ time but it’s not that long-off. Soon we see Boris [Johnson, UK Prime Minister] banning all petrol combustion cars in the UK. So how we have a petrol championship after that is a big question and it does leave a hole in the motorsport world.
“I’m sure it won’t be long before we see electric WRC cars running around as well. There’s no difference with the fans you’ll still get the drama. Yes, you won’t have the noise but I’m sure we can superimpose that somehow. It’s great – it’s building awareness and doing great things for the world of motorsport.”
Much of motorsport is beginning to gradually embrace electric power with the number of series embracing hybrid engines beginning to outstrip those purely using good old-fashioned gas. But XE isn’t just following the by now fairly clear trend. It’s not aiming to be a series that just happens to power its cars with electricity, it hopes to make a real change.
“The cherry on top of [the series] is that we are actively doing things, not just talking about going electric and how the world needs to change. We’re actually there, drivers on the ground, we’re going to do some work on the beaches in Saudi, picking up plastic. We’re actually doing stuff.
“All that is going to be broadcast as well and reaching an audience that wouldn’t necessarily search for how they can impact the environment. Motorsport has a very different following than science.
“It’s cool to bring those two worlds together. And that we’re going to some awesome places and going to have some dramatic races – it’s the full picture.”
Not satisfied with just being an electric pioneer, XE is also tackling motorsport’s long-ingrained issues surrounding women. Each team must comprise a male and female driver with the pair’s combined lap times deciding on the leaderboard.
By putting women and men together in this way the series neatly sidesteps accusations of segregating women or presenting female drivers as a novelty act. And it’s this particular format of levelling the playfield that has Munnings excited.
“What I love about Extreme E is it would be really easy for them to say you have to a male and a female driver in each team and have a male lap and a female lap and it would be individual results because I think that’s quite standard for motorsport,” Munnings says.
It’s in everyone’s interest for the females to be just as fast as the males. I love the fact it’s combined because there’s no reason why it shouldn’t beCatie Munnings on XE's gender equality
“We want to be there because we’ve been chosen and are going to impact the team so therefore we have to be fast, we have to be racers. It’s not just a PR stunt and it’s not just for the media. With that attitude in mind, there will be the same amount of testing for males and females and all the things that you don’t normally see going on behind the races of a motorsport championship that will all have to be equal.
“It’s in everyone’s interest for the females to be just as fast as the males. Having had a career in motorsport and knowing how it works on the inside, I think knowing you’re being taken seriously and being valued the same as the male drivers is definitely the biggest thing.
“I really love the combined factor. I feel like after a few races we’ll all be discussed as drivers rather than it being a phenomenon that there’s women there as well. I’m sure there will be battles between the males and females and that will just become a part of our sport.”
That, of course, is half the battle won. With women in motorsport normalized the foundation is truly built for an equal sport.
All this is well and good. The climate and diversity are promoted, another series with societal issues at its core is launched. The challenge was always to prevent the series from being too niche and reaching the biggest audience possible. Both electric racing and women drivers can be difficult to sell to some hardcore racing fans but XE seems to have found a way around that.
Enter Sébastien Loeb. And Carlos Sainz. And Jenson Button. And Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg entering teams. And Johan Kristoffersson and Mattias Ekström. The XE grid is packed with motorsport elite from every discipline. Even the most skeptical of the series can’t fail to be intrigued by the prospect of seeing a group of champions go head to head in the same machinery?
Munnings feels that the quality of drivers that XE has managed to secure is also vital in validating women in motorsport.
“People are always asking if I agree with W Series and one of my points from the beginning is I absolutely love the fact that they’re encouraging women into motorsport. But what I love about this is that we’re encouraging it in the same way but we’re not then creating isolation, sort of this is men’s sport, this is women’s sport,” Munnings says.
“I love the fact it’s combined because there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. I think it’s what people want to see nowadays and I’m really glad that’s the way Alejandro [Agag, founder] has run the sporting format.
“I think it will be even more powerful with the girls there battling against Sainz and Loeb. It was exciting seeing the times in pre-season testing because we’re all drivers at the end of the day. I think going into it people thought there would be a big gap between the male and the female drivers but when we were looking at it as a team everyone is muddled in there, there’s not huge segregation at all.
“When we’re side by side that will be even more so. I’m excited that [the female drivers are] bringing the action because if we were just turning up and there was a big separation on the grid it would be not as exciting to watch.
“I’m excited that we’re racing against these absolute heroes and motorsport icons with so much experience and we’re combining that with a younger generation coming through with perhaps not as much experience but hunger for it and women who want to prove a point.
“That’s a really cool thing that’s happening. There are some fast girls in the championship and I’m really excited to be among them and on a grid among Loeb, Sainz, Button and even Timmy [Hansen] my team-mate. Just learning from these people, having conversations and working with the engineers is an invaluable experience.”