Inspired by a unique combination of Dakar Rally-style off-road competition and the surge in prominence of electric racing, Extreme E is breaking new ground in motorsport’s quest to reduce its climate footprint.
Established at the back end of 2018 by Formula E boss Alejandro Agag and former Formula 1 and IndyCar driver Gil de Ferran, XE is all about raising awareness of global climate change using five of the world’s most remote locations for its races.
Seven teams have committed to XE and 15 drivers have expressed an interest in taking part when it kicks off next year. They will drive a custom-built ODYSSEY 21, a 400kw (550bhp) machine built by Spark Racing Technology capable of achieving 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
One of the drivers leading the development work of XE with testing of its Continental tires is Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, a circuit racer with an innate ability in the fickle and capricious nature of off-road driving.
Developing a sustainable, climate-conscious rally series is, according to Åhlin-Kottulinsky, taking the necessary next step for motorsport to align itself with global warming prevention projects, while also offering elite competition.
“When I found out about the series and the project, it just seemed like a perfect match, with a good message but also with exciting racing. So, when I got to drive the car for the first time, it was just really an amazing day,” Åhlin-Kottulinsky says.
“Hopefully this is something that we look up to. If you look up to someone, you want to do the same as them, and the way I see it, is that if we can be role models in how to make a change for the world, that will be a huge impact.”
Åhlin-Kottulinsky has motorsport in her blood. Her grandfather, Freddy Kottulinsky, was the first Swede to win the famous Paris-Dakar Rally 40 years ago, while she is a race winner in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship in her native Sweden.
While Åhlin-Kottulinsky’s only competition experience on the loose has come in the form of occasional rallycross appearances, she has a wealth of experience in ice driving which she believes is an asset in getting to grips with the XE machine.
“The [XE] car is huge, but once you are sitting in it, it doesn’t feel huge. Once you’re sitting in it, you feel compact. I am at one with it, and it’s very much like ice driving.
“When you are on the ice, you are working a lot with the load change with the car to get it to go where you want it. And it is exactly the same here.
“I am so grateful that the first time I was on the ice I was 10 years old and I have done it pretty much every winter since then.”
As a brand ambassador for Continental Tires, the official supplier of rubber and founding partner of XE, Åhlin-Kottulinsky has undergone a substantial testing program since the car’s official launch at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year.
Despite a slightly rushed debut, the car has been tested in Château de Lastours in southern France. It was here that she really got a handle on the ODYSSEY 21 and the technique required to get the maximum out of it as well.
“It took me about half a day to get used to the car, to really get the feeling of it, how to understand what type of driving style I needed to use, but once I got there, it was so much fun. And especially with it being electric, you can also turn it so much with the throttle.
“There are two engines in the car, one in the front and one in the rear, so of course the car has to be set up smoothly, like a rallycross buggy. You get a lot of load change to the rear on acceleration which means you spin the rear tyres.
“What we were doing in testing was working on a system to make the four-wheel drive more variable so you don’t have the power in the front when you are going out of the corners. The development has honestly been amazing and the car is so much further ahead than it was last summer.”
With electrification becoming a priority for more car manufacturers and the pressures on reducing emissions only increasing, Åhlin-Kottulinsky believes motorsport can lead the way to creating an important change.
“Of course, we will make a [carbon] footprint, of course we will make more CO2 than if we wouldn’t do it. However, if you look at the big picture, if you look at what we do, if you look at how we raise awareness, then I think we can make a huge difference.”