Motorsport has always had a purpose – be it improving technology, advertising, developing sporting or engineering talent, or simply entertainment. There’s always been a reason why we take cars out to play.
Extreme E is no different. Being the first all-electric SUV racing series, the first all-electric off-road series, and one of only a handful of battery powered series in existence today, its benefit of being in at the ground floor as EV tech grows and develops – especially with off-road vehicles – is clear. But Extreme E, for all of its genuine technological and top-level racing credentials, is about more than a few wheels turning.
At each round, Extreme E aims to highlight the plight of our planet by engaging in ‘legacy programs’ that give back more than they take from the locations visited, something that is a core component to this racing series and makes it unique to any other. What’s more, these projects are the result of several year’s work, not just an afternoon of activity ahead of the race.
“It’s very important. We come here today and this wouldn’t happen, this welcome that we’re having wouldn’t happen if we wouldn’t have been here for two years working with the local community,” Extreme E founder Alejandro Agag told DirtFish during a visit to Foyer Des Jeunes et de la Culture, a center at the heart of Niaga, near where the Ocean X-Prix is taking place.
Extreme E has been working with the community there to develop educational facilities and help the people become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly as it faces increased vulnerability.
“What Extreme E does not want to be is a race that just comes, goes around with fast cars, and then goes away,” he stressed. “But that is easier said than done.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of effort, and it’s thanks to our local partners on all the ground that are working here every single day that we manage then to be really part of the community and to be really welcomed.”
Drivers normally don’t have the chance to make a contribution like this. But it’s a real contributionAlejandro Agag
The work Extreme E does is very real. These aren’t mere photo opportunities ahead of race day, these are genuine, long-term projects that have been in the works long before the race itself rolled into town.
“This a lot of hard work, and the most important thing is not to care about the cynics,” Agag said. “I was reading so much like ‘yeah, Extreme E is just bulls***, they go there…’, I couldn’t care less. Because this is what I care about, and when you come, you see it.
“And I can see the drivers really kind of, almost emotional because they are like ‘wow, what are we doing?’ because drivers normally don’t have the chance to make a contribution like this. But it’s a real contribution.”
On Thursday, after a warm welcome that included traditional dance, songs, and speeches from village elders, the Extreme E party joined schoolchildren to plant trees that will eventually grow to feed the people of the town and serve the business of the area. It was the latest in a number of projects that Extreme E has been involved in since the series was first announced in 2018.
“The important thing is that we’ve been here for two years working on the ground,” said Agag. “Today we plant [these] trees, but I was in this school two years ago and this place, the classrooms, they didn’t look like that at all.”
Prior to the visit to Niaga, on Wednesday, the series, its drivers, and invited guests that included DirtFish took part in a mangrove planting project which aims to plant one million propagules (mangrove buds) ahead of the rainy season.
Mangroves are not only vital for the area – by regulating the salinity of the soil, allowing it to be used my locals for agriculture – but the planet as a whole, being the most effective plant in sequestering carbon. They also play host to a wide array of aquatic creatures, providing them with a habitat in which to thrive.
By working with NGO Oceanium to plant the trees, Extreme E has a direct, positive influence on the communities that welcome it, as well as the earth’s climate and atmosphere. And that’s where the ‘legacy’ element comes in. In the coming years those plants will blossom, and their real-life benefits realised in clear view for everyone to see.
“You’re going to see big, big difference of planting all those mangroves, and the CO2, and that offsets part of our carbon emissions worldwide,” Agag said of the mangrove project.
“You’re going to be able to see it,” he added. “That’s the thing. You’re building this legacy program that you leave behind, and then you come back and you can see the result.
“And I think that’s the important thing that we want to do. A million mangroves is a lot. But even if if it was 1000 mangroves, or 10,000 mangroves, every little push, a graduation comes.”
Extreme E may only be in its second event, but looking ahead, there’s already an eye on future legacy programs that will envolope races in coming seasons. They will be a combination of revisiting the work done in season one to acknowledge and understand what’s been achieved, but also to add to the XE legacy with an increased number of new and developing projects.
“We like to find good people, local people or local communities that are doing small efforts,” said Agag. “It’s not the big thing, it’s very difficult to find big projects, but it’s very easy to find small projects by local people that you can support. And many small projects add to something big. So that’s how we look at it.
“We always know people in the countries where we go. And also the thing is we try to make something close to where we race, which is the case here. So I think for these people, because of course the race generates some level of disruption for them, they cannot access the beach for a few days and so on and so on. Of course if they know it’s us, and we’re coming and we’re part of kind of their family, then of course they accept it with a lot more happiness.
“We just go on the ground and look for projects on the ground ourselves. And we have Louisa [Tholstrup, Extreme E explorer, science, and legacy manager], who is our explorer, who goes around the world wandering around and looking for things.”
Agag added that the ongoing work of the legacy programs meant that locations were likely to remain on future calendars, although he didn’t rule out the possibility of small changes, or indeed alternating the schedule should the opportunity arise.
“Of course we want to go to new locations, but then you can not abandon the projects that you’ve started,” he said. “I think there’s a strong argument to stay in the places where we come, and I think most of the places we’re going to keep. Maybe four out of five we will keep, we [might] change one.
“I would really like to, for example, come back to Senegal because the work here that we’re doing is great, and I think the track is going to be fantastic. Or alternate. So if you don’t come every year, you come every two years so at least you can follow every two years the progress of the work that you are doing.”