Next year Extreme E will bring all-electric propulsion to off-road racing, in a new initiative from the creators of the now hugely successful Formula E.
We’ll be covering the build-up and the inaugural series in depth on DirtFish, so to kick off here’s David Evans’ guide to the series.
A lot of years ago, we were searching for options for the Christmas track test the publication I was writing for always held – which put a motorsport star in a piece of very unlikely machinery.
I was in Auckland and came up with a plan. My plan involved Formula 1-levels of tech, in the form of an America’s Cup yacht, and Colin McRae. Unfortunately, McRae couldn’t have been less interested.
“Sailing?” he scoffed. “What’s the point in that? There’s no engine.”
That’s why you never read a story about the 1995 World Rally champion taking the wheel of NZL41.
Internal combustion was important to Colin. But power was everything.
Colin would have liked Odyssey 21. Even without an engine.
Odyssey 21 is the all-electric SUV to be used in the inaugural Extreme E (XE) season next year.
Downside? It weighs a fairly hefty 1650kg. Upside? A 400kw output divides 550bhp and 920NM of torque between four wheels and sends the thing horizon-bound at 124mph, with 62 of those seen off in just a short 4.5 seconds.
As if that’s not cool enough, it’ll rocket up gradients of 130%, utilising 385mm of suspension travel.
The chassis is manufactured by Spark Racing Technology, battery by Williams Advanced Engineering and tires by Continental.
The bodywork’s free, so a manufacturer can slot on a scaled version of whatever it wants; an ideal world would have a Jaguar I-Pace taking on a BMW iX3 and an Audi e-tron.
Beyond McRae, if there’s another driver you couldn’t really imagine liking anything functioning without the highest of octane, it would be Ken Block.
The American’s a convert. He tested Odyssey 21 in Saudi Arabia earlier this year. And it’s safe to say he liked it.
So, that’s the car: XE will be using chunky, go-anywhere, Dakar-style rocketship racers with batteries.
Where will they be going and how will the racing work?
The stated primary aim of the five-round series is to broaden understanding of the global climate challenges faced in five very different ecosystems.
XE intends to shine a light – presumably a low-energy light – on these areas by offering high-intensity off-road racing in what’s likely to be a two-day format tailored to the exacting demands of media in all its forms.
Basically, XE’s going to take a bunch of rally drivers, mix them up with some racers, divide them among a bunch of teams, put them in some pokey off-roaders and let them loose in Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Greenland and Brazil.
While you’re watching the racing, you’ll be soft-sold the vital message that atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases sit at record levels causing global temperatures to rise by one degree from when the spinning jenny was recognised as the cutting edge of industrial revolution.
XE – like its circuit-bound forerunner Formula E – will aim to make progress in an arena and community where even Greta Thunberg might fear to tread.
The precise plan for how the racing will work is still being considered, but it’s going to be a head-to-head race format, rather than a rally-style against the clock.
In the coming weeks, we’ll look more closely at the areas XE’s going to and why it’s going there, but for now it’s enough to know XE will be racing in the Arctic, on glacial terrain, a rainforest, desert and, for the season-opener, in the Lac Rose ocean location which provides a wide variety of challenges from salt beds to sand bars.
But who will be racing?
The (potential) drivers
Sébastien Ogier was present at the launch of the Odyssey 21 at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Right now the six-time World Rally champion’s an ambassador for the series. Will he compete? Let’s wait and see. But here’s what he said on Lord March’s front lawn last summer
“Extreme E is unlike anything else we have in motorsport, so it is incredibly appealing to me. The short stages, the power and performance of the Odyssey 21, the head-to-head format and of course the spectacular, unique locations, will make the racing extremely intense and very exciting for drivers and the fans watching from home.
“I’m in love with nature and the planet, and also, being a father makes the future protection of our planet a very important fight to me personally. I want us to try and change our habits, and XE’s mission to promote electric future is crucial to that goal.”
Other expressions of interest have come from all corners of motorsport, with the series setting up a program for drivers to effectively sign up as potential participants. The same was done for FE, prompting widespread bemusement back then – but a lot of its ‘Drivers’ Club’ members committed to racing in the series.
Pau Grand Prix winner and double amputee Billy Monger’s name is down for Extreme E, along with the inaugural W series champion Jamie Chadwick. Then there’s the Hansen brothers, Timmy and Kevin, looking in from rallycross.
It’s expected 12 drivers will start the season driving for a variety of teams, with five squads committed so far.
FE regulars Venturi, HWA and Abt are among them, with Esports powerhouse Veloce teaming up with double FE champion and partner Jean-Éric Vergne to set up a team too. Electric drivetrain specialist QEV is the most recent addition.
What’s with the boat?
Before I go, it’s worth mentioning the ship at the series launch in London last year.
That ship is called the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St Helena. That’s 6767 tons of floating operating base for XE. Back in the day the St Helena sailed between Saint Helena, Cape Town and the Ascension Islands carrying folk, food and a bit of everything.
From January, it will transport the cars to the locations (or in some cases, such as Nepal, as close as possible) before acting as a service park. The currently diesel motors powering the boat develop 6532kW to send it, flat-chat at almost 17mph across the sea.
The series organisers are more than aware of the irony of relying on internal combustion to cart everything electric around the world and they’re working on a solution.
Right now, with season one just 10 months away, there’s more than enough to keep the XE team busy.