Creating a new frontier in Electric Vehicle Racing, the EV off-road racing series – Extreme E – has been given FIA International Series status.
During the 2020 FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), hosted by FIA President Jean Todt, the FIA announced that Extreme E would be granted status as an FIA International Series. This means that the series will run under FIA international sanctioning when it debuts in January 2021.Alejandro Agag, CEO of Extreme E and founder of Formula E, said, “All of us at Extreme E are delighted to have this seal of approval and be officially classified as an FIA International Series. We’ve been working hard towards this goal and the speed of recognition by the FIA gives us all a great confidence boost as we prepare to start our first season in 2021.
“This certification confirms that Extreme E will operate to FIA international standards and we will also benefit greatly from the valuable input of the FIA and the ACM (Auto Club de Monaco). The FIA’s decades of sporting and technical expertise will be a great addition as we get started on this exciting new sporting journey together.”
What is Extreme E?If you haven’t heard of it by now, you’re probably living under a rock as Extreme E has been taken notice by the world. This is thanks to being the first electric rally raid-style series created by ABB Formula E founder, Alejandro Agag. The vehicles are spec built by Spark Technology for Extreme E, including the suspension, motor, and use a Williams Advanced Technology battery pack. It is known as the Odyssey 21 and it will be detailed further in an upcoming article.
Much like rally raid racing, these events take place in breathtaking locations over several days. The biggest difference between a traditional rally raid (like the Dakar Rally) and Extreme E is distance and a required driver change for each vehicle. Each two-day event, called an X Prix by Extreme E, will run as a loop race with two laps for a total distance of about 9.94-miles (16-km). Qualifying takes place on day one with the two semi-finals and final taking place on day two.
Race FormatDuring each race, including qualifying, a male and female driver will do a lap each with the driver change happing during the race. Just as in Formula E, there will be a speed boost that a driver can use during the race called Hyperdrive. In the case of Extreme E, Hyperdrive will be added to the team who jumps the furthest distance on the first jump of the track. Once gained, a driver can use the Hyperdrive boost at any point during the race.
Qualifying will determine which Semi Final each team will race in, with the four fastest teams going straight to Semi Final One. Everyone else will go to semi final two, which Extreme E is calling the “Crazy Race.” It gains that name thanks to an all-or-nothing format in which the only team moving on will be the winner and they go straight to the final. You don’t win in semi final two, your event is done.
Unlike the Crazy Race, the top three teams will move on to the final in Semi Final One. In the finals, it’s another all-or-nothing format with the fastest team in the final will be crowned the winner of the two-day X Prix event.
LocationsThe provisional calendar of the inaugural Extreme E 2021 season starts on January 23 to 24 in Lac Rose, Dakar, Senegal. From there, onboard Extreme E’s St Helena – a former Royal Mail Service ship that retired in 2018 and has been refitted to be more modern, efficient and comfortable for those traveling on board – will travel to Sharaan, Al-‘Ula, Saudi Arabia for a March 4th and 5th event. Then it’s on to Kali Gandaki Valley, Mustang District, Nepal on May 14th to the 15th; Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on August 28th to 29th; and finally, on to Santarem, Para, Brazil on October 30th to 31st.
Global and Human ImpactsIf you’re thinking that those locations sound unusual for racing, there is a reason for that. They all represent Arctic, Desert, Amazon, and Coastal locations and are all locations that are impacted by global climate change. Other than racing, the other reason Extreme E exists is to promote EV use and technology, finding ways to reduce environmental impact, and even promote gender equality through racing.
It’s not just saying it, either. Charging the battery packs of the Odyssey 21s will be done with a hydrogen cell charging station created by AFC Energy that only creates water as a byproduct. On board the St Helena, there will be a team of scientists, lead by Professor Peter Wadhams from the University of Cambridge who also specializes in Arctic sciences, and a laboratory that will allow them to conduct experiments and research in relation to climate change and solutions to combat it, including how to conduct their logistics to reduce Extreme E’s own impact on each location. As mentioned earlier, each team will have a male and female driver per car and each must do a full lap in qualifying, Semi Finals, and the Finals and the St. Helena engines and generators will run on ultra-low-sulfur diesel.
I know many in the off-road world will look at this and grumble about this being all about social justice pandering and climate change not being real. However, the reality is that we’re all impacting our planet and should do what we can to reduce or eliminate that impact and that, socially, there are things that can still be done to bring equality to everyone around the world. Extreme E doing that by racing just means we can bring those messages to everyone around the world in a way that we can also enjoy. Why should the asphalt guys get all the fun and attention with Formula E?
The 2021 TeamsIt’s also not going to be filled with teams of nobodies, either. For us in the United States, we’ll be able to cheer on Andretti United – with drivers Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings – and Chip Ganassi Racing – with off-road legend, Kyle LeDuc, and 2019 Baja 1000 IronWoman, Sara Price.
British Formula One fans will push fir X44 that was founded by six-time F1 champion, Lewis Hamilton. German fans have Abt Sportsline – known for working with Audi in DTM and Formula E – and HWA Team – known for developing and building vehicles and components for Mercedes-AMG, managing AMG Mercedes in DTM from 2000 to 2018, and racing in Formula E for the 2018/2019 season (before Mercedes joined FE officially in 2019/2020 and renamed the HWA team to Mercedes-Benz EQ) – to push to victory.
Veloce Racing is backed by two-time Formula E champion Jean Eric-Vergne and Adrian Newey, Red Bull Racing Formula One’s Chief Technical Officer and renowned aerodynamicist. Techeetah, three-time Formula E champion team and the motorsports pride of Indonesia, will be bringing their EV experience. Finally, QEV Technologies from Spain, who have electric vehicle production and racing experience with their Arc Fox road and Arc Fox GT race cars as well as their Formula E team.
If We Want To Continue Off-Road Racing, We Need EV“EVs are our future,” is something you’ll need to get used to hearing. The technology is getting less expensive, battery production is becoming less damaging to the planet as cobalt use is reduced and lithium recycling is increased, and more and more places around the world are requiring new vehicle purchases – including powersports and recreational vehicles – to be EV only in the next decade. This means that our way of off-roading will become electrified and we’re already seeing that with Tesla, Rivian, Ford, and GM producing new electric trucks capable of off-road use.
Why not make it fun, too? Thanks to Extreme E and their Odyssey 21, we’re going to get that chance through rally raid-style racing that’s now FIA approved and sanctioned. Just as Formula E proved that EV racing can be exciting and helped bring E-TCR and E-Rallycross, Extreme E’s Alejandro Agag’s vision of electric off-road racing will encourage EVs to “do it in the dirt.”
It won’t be long before we see the first true EV trophy truck, Class 1, and Ultra4 vehicles. I do feel that it will take some inventiveness with battery pack swapping or DC fast charging, but that’s what those vehicles help produce for the off-road world: new technology that reinvents open desert racing. Just look at what Ultra4 did, it helped push the technology of reliable four-wheel-drive off-road racing and that’s improved rock crawling and encouraged new 4WD trophy trucks to be developed.
If we want to continue enjoying the dirt in a race format, we’ll need to encourage EV technology for off-roading, too. Extreme E is only the start.