With just a few days before the start of the inaugural Extreme E season, it’s time for punters to get off the fence and lay down their expectations of motorsport’s newest creation.
Nine teams and 18 drivers will take to the Saudi Arabian desert for a wholly new type of racing, then do the same as they travel to four other extreme locations in 2021.
Pre-season tests didn’t provide a competitive picture to make predictions from, but the driver line-ups have got DirtFish’s writers excited regardless:
Niche drivers establishing themselves in the mainstream
Dominik Wilde: Looking at the XE driver roster everyone knows the likes of Sébastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz and Jenson Button, but there’s a plethora of driving talent that haven’t quite established themselves as household names across the world, yet, despite being winners and champions throughout their careers.
Look at Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price, Molly Taylor, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, Laia Sanz and so on – all exceptional talents that are well known in their own respective countries and regular disciplines, but cast the net further afield and these guys and girls slip under the radar.
That’s a shame given just how good they all are and how much they’ve achieved in their chosen fields so far.
XE will be a global series with wide-reaching appeal and fantastic media coverage, giving these relative unknowns (a term that as a motorsport fan as well as a journalist I feel bad using) a chance to become even bigger names and get an even bigger reach.
Not only that, but putting these ‘sleeping giants’ up against motorsport legends like your Loebs and Buttons will provide a perfect benchmark and perspective too.
The motorsport world is full of incredible talent that many who don’t follow outside of the mainstream categories won’t be aware of. Now is their time to shine.
David Evans: Two words. Johan Kristoffersson.
Finally, this bloke-next-door megastar gets his shot on the world stage. Winning 11 out of 12 races in the 2018 World Rallycross Championship was something else. Fine, he might have had the best car and the best team, but the others really weren’t that far behind and to steer from the front with such consistency across a season in a sport so hideously unpredictable as rallycross was something special.
And he’s not a bad rally driver, which makes him even more agreeable in my book.
Typically for Kristoffersson, he’s landed into Saudi somewhat under the radar. With a varying focus on saving the planet, being gender equal and having F1 royalty hitting the dirt, nobody seems to have noticed the tall fella with his head down doing his homework at the back of the class. That’ll be JK.
Trust me, nobody will have done more in testing or more preparation than this fella.
And when it comes to the track walk later this week, the intensity will be right up there with every line looked, gauged and gone over. And with Molly Taylor – the only woman ever to have won the Australian Rally Championship – driving alongside him, Rosberg X Racing poses the strongest possible threat.
A fresh approach to motorsport
Anna Duxbury: If Dakar, Formula E, World RX and W Series had a lovechild it would look something like XE.
Alejandro Agag has a knack for putting together different concepts to come up with something that, while initially somewhat shocking to the conservatism of motorsport, really works.
XE’s calendar is dictated by a desire to educate people on the very real effects of climate change in certain areas of the globe and its technology revolves around promoting sustainable motorsport. Its format is designed to be accessible and exciting – especially considering its audience will be watching only via screens. No spectators almost seems an affront on motorsport’s DNA but Agag has an ability to Marie Kondo (an expert of efficient tidying up) the traditions of racing to embrace what is needed now, today, in the world we live in.
XE also has gender equality built into its very structure, not just promoting female talent but ensuring that women get the same amount of seats and time in the cars as well as their results counting for just as much as their male counterparts.
It all feels reassuringly 21st century, a modernization of the sport we all love. It’s bold and unafraid to try something new and sometimes with that risk comes the greatest reward.
Close-quarter racing and action
Stephen Brunsdon: Before you even consider the drivers contesting the inaugural XE round, just have a look at the teams.
You’ve got three F1 Champions up against each other, two of America’s most iconic brands and a German touring car behemoth all fighting tooth-and-nail to come out on top. Now these teams are not in racing to come second-best. They are proven winners, so you can expect the competition to be fierce and incredibly close.
We’ve been spoiled in recent years by the competitiveness of the World Rally Championshp, World RX and to a certain extent the Dakar Rally, and all signs point towards XE matching that level of off-road quality.
For a start, the driver line-ups are about as strong as you could manage and the fact that the field has been limited to just two days of official testing will undoubtedly level the playing field as well. The race format should also help keep things unpredictable too, with groups of cars lining up alongside each other, duking it out over the best part of 10km and overcoming the various natural obstacles. It will be incredible.
The scene is set for action aplenty and, while some drivers will have more experience than others, everyone is in the same boat for the very first round.
Old rivalries in a new environment
Luke Barry: One of the many tantalizing aspects of XE is the eclectic mix of motorsport stars it has attracted. Where else would you see a junior single-seater ace directly against an F1 World Champion and the most successful drivers in the WRC and World RX?
While Jamie Chadwick versus Loeb will be an interesting comparison purely for the bizarreness that it’s actually real, it’s Loeb versus Carlos Sainz that’s really piqued my interest. Both are absolute legends of rallying and both have turned their hand to the Dakar Rally since, but who will come out on top in XE?
Similarly, we know that Kristoffersson arguably has a minor edge over fellow World RX Champions Mattias Ekström and Timmy Hansen in 600bhp rallycross Supercars, but who will be quickest in electric off-road racing?
Old scores are very much there to be settled in XE, it just remains to be seen whether they prove to be the main battles or if brand-new rivalries will forge. Either way, I’m struggling to think of a time when any motorsport series threw such a diverse mix of drivers together in what should be equal machinery and allowed them to fight for a championship. It’s going to be fascinating.
Drivers, not teams, making the difference
Alasdair Lindsay: Extreme E is, on the face of it, a spec-series. Every team will use the same Odyssey 21 SUV, all of which utilize a chassis built by Spark and a battery developed by Williams Advanced Engineering.
But anyone who’s been around motorsport for a while knows that a spec-series on paper rarely means performance parity on the track. Different teams have different strengths and can make a good driver look mediocre, and vice versa.
So, the question is: how much of the result will be decided by the quality of the individuals behind the wheel, and how much will be decided by the engineers and mechanics?
We don’t know yet, of course. But the hope is it’s the former. This first race will hopefully give us an idea as there’s a couple of teams that already stand out as having a head-start from their experience in the worlds of electric and off-road racing.
If the teams’ specialized experience ends up being the biggest factor, and not the drivers, Acciona Sainz is an obvious candidate to be quickest out of the blocks. QEV, the team running the Sainz effort, won the debut season of Formula E and has been busy building electric rallycross cars since, so looks to have the biggest depth of in-house knowledge for the challenge ahead. And we’re expecting X44 to have a technical partnership with a firm that knows a thing or two about the dusty stuff.
If past experience proves not to be too influential, it’s a good sign that we’re in for an extremely competitive season where the drivers make the biggest difference. And I think that’s what most of us are hoping to see.