Sainz, trash and turtles – Extreme E’s unique pre‑event routine

Pre-race activities for the Extreme E opener were highly unusual, as David Evans discovered

Carlos Sainz (ESP), Acciona | Sainz XE Team

There’s definitely something odd about seeing two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz walking down a beach picking up rubbish and putting it in a bag, slung over his shoulder. Almost as strange as the moment Sara Price told Jenson Button she had to Google him to find out who he was. Or having Mattias Ekström tell me last night was the first night he’d shared a room with Johan Kristoffersson since 1999.

It’s been one of those days.

One of those great days.

It started back on the St Helena with a chat with aquatic ecologist Carlos Duarte. We were talking turtles. I’ve got to admit, I was pretty skeptical about this whole side of the trip, but people like Carlos have completely brought it to life.

I’ll keep it brief, you kind of had to be there, but turtles are increasingly getting the short end of the stick. They’re getting caught up in fishing nets, they’re getting either themselves or their eggs poached (as in stolen, not boiled) either for meat or for the shells and the lovely Hawksbill turtles are tucking into what they think is a delicious jellyfish, only to find it’s a plastic carrier bag.


Photo: Sam Bloxham / Extreme E

Which is why Sainz and fellow heroes of our world were out on the beach doing a litter pick.

And here’s the strangest fact about turtles. Because the planet’s getting warmer, we’re ending up with more females. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing – remember we’re gender-equal in the world of Extreme E. But it is a thing.

Given that this trip’s about speed and ecology, here’s the perfect turtle tale for you: when they hatch, the turtle has 20 seconds to go from shell to sea. A third of those who don’t hit that 20-second mark are gobbled up by predatory seabirds.

For those who make the waves, they’re likely to live for up to 100 years.


The journey to Jeddah

It's been a long road to get here – a very long, straight road, to be specific.

After turtles, it was time for a tour of the boat with St Helena’s chief officer Nevan Holland.

It was Nevan’s job to pack the boot and fill the thing with diesel for the trip down here.

Packing the thing meant a day and a half loading 63 containers, nine Odyssey 21 SUVs and six BMW X3 support cars. Brimming the tank with low-sulfur ozone layer-friendly diesel meant 700,000 liters, which took four hours.

“We didn’t get a chance to practice,” Holland said. “Basically, we got the Hispano Suiza car first and we just had to get on with loading. But because this is such a high-profile thing, we had BBC and Sky and all sorts of people there filming the first car going on the boat. I was using a forklift truck to move the car and put it on the cradle to winch it in and reversing the thing back I went down a pothole and the whole thing tipped…


Photo: Ollie Emery / Extreme E

“Honestly, my hands were shaking! It was terrible. There’s been an element of stepping into the unknown about this job. Getting everything onboard, all the crates and all 420 tonnes of cargo has been a bit like doing a jigsaw. We’ve just had to get on with it.

“My brain’s a bit fried now, I have to say.”

As is always the case with big machines, the numbers are fascinating. The St Helena has two 57-liter, six-cylinder turbocharged engines which make close to 9,000 horsepower each. With 18,000bhp on tap, you might be surprised to find the top speed is 16 knots, a slightly miserable 29mph. But, don’t forget that power is shoving 6,700 tonnes through the water.


But, with only five appointments around the world this year and being quite keen to limit the ship’s emissions, only one engine is used which, means a cruising speed of 9.5 knots.

So, from Liverpool to Jeddah, the world’s fastest off-road racers were making the journey at… 11mph. And even that burned 10,000 liters of fuel per day.

After a fascinating insight into the inner workings of a 31-year-old refurbished boat, it was time to talk to some drivers.

And American off-roader Sara Price was a good place to start. The 28-year-old Californian was the first Extreme E signing. She joined Chip Ganassi in June last year, but had to choose between offers from three teams.


Photo: Colin McMaster / Extreme E

But before she chose, she admits she had to look up Extreme E to find out exactly what it was.

Realizing it was the answer to her dreams, she did her deal.

Price is a no-nonsense racer, the sort who becomes the first woman to take on the Baja 1000 by herself. She did that and finished second in class in 2019.

She admits that while she was au fait with some of the Europeans she’d be competing against, Button wasn’t one of them. Right on cue, the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion walks into the door. Price keeps her foot in.

Jenson Button (GBR), JBXE Extreme-E Team

Photo: Colin McMaster / Extreme E

“He came to do an off-road race in America and everybody kept talking about this Formula 1 driver,” she said, nodding in the JBXE driver’s direction. “I thought: ‘Who is this guy?’ So I Googled him and that’s how found I found out about him.”

Button smiles.

“Google eh, isn’t it amazing. And she kicked my arse as well!”

Interviews finished, Price is on her way.

“See you on the start line…” goads Button.

Price laughs briefly, then offers the perfect riposte.

“Bring it.”