When the Extreme E championship was announced in early 2019, the idea of an off-road championship for electric SUVs competing in remote locations to highlight the impact of climate change seemed outlandish.
Three years later, with the second Extreme E season starting in Neom, Saudi Arabia, this weekend, it no longer seems fanciful. In fact, it feels almost mainstream. The reason why? Sustainability.
This is the hottest topic in the industry today. It’s no longer enough simply to build an EV: car makers are racing to eliminate carbon emissions, recycle materials and protect the environment. In that context, Extreme E feels hugely relevant.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, given the form of series creator Alejandro Agag. When he launched Formula E back in 2014, sceptics doubted an electric single-seater championship could last, due to the constraints of EV technology. It’s now an FIA World Championship with seven major manufacturers represented on its grid.
Extreme E isn’t there yet, of course. The championship faced numerous challenges during its inaugural season in 2021, and there’s certainly room for improvement. But there’s clearly potential, too: it had works-backed entries from Cupra and GMC Hummer, three teams owned by Formula 1 champions and a driver line-up that mixed stars from racing, rally and rallycross.
“I compare it to a Marvel film. It’s Avengers Assemble: we’re bringing the best of motorsport together,” says Extreme E marketing chief Ali Russell.
The on-track action had potential, too: while heavy dust ruined the first event in Saudi Arabia, for the most part the identical 536bhp Spark Odyssey electric buggies looked the part, were robust and reliable, and could cope with hugely varied terrain and provided good racing.