Currently reading: Extreme E: Why Dorset's mud presents an extreme challenge
Innovative off-road electric championship will wrap up its first season facing unique new challenges in the UK

The inaugural season of the innovative new Extreme E championship will take place this weekend – although not as organisers had originally planned.

The series for electric off-road SUVs was designed to promote sustainability by staging races in remote locations that had been impacted by climate change. After events in Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Greenland and Sardinia, the season was supposed to conclude in Ushuaia, the world’s most southernmost city, in Argentina. But due to the ongoing pandemic, it will instead conclude in Dorset on the south coast of England.

But while an event on the muddy tank-testing tracks of Bovington Camp near Poole might not seem that extreme, the unique nature of the event (grandly titled the Jurassic X Prix after the nearby Jurassic Coast) does create some interesting challenges for both teams and drivers.

While Extreme E events aren't open to spectators, this weekend’s action will be shown on ITV, Sky and the BBC’s digital channels. So here’s what to watch for.

An ‘unbalanced’ event format

All Extreme E teams are required to field a male and female driver for each car. The races are usually run over two laps, with a driver switch at the end of the first lap. But racers in the Jurassic X Prix will cover a tight 2.36-mile loop around Bovington Camp that's much shorter than the usual races.

As a result, each race will now be run over three laps, meaning that one driver will do two laps, before handing over to their team-mate for the final lap. To keep things balanced, championship bosses will require the female drivers to run first in free practice, with the male drivers going first in the next heat. That mean the female drivers will run first and complete the first two laps of the final.

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In practice, the course has also proven to be very quick while rewarding precise driving.

British driver Catie Munnings described it as “fast, with some really high-speed bits where you need to be quite precise", adding: "It reminds me a lot of a rally stage compared to some of the courses we usually run on.”

The defining feature of the course is set to be the 5.4-metre ‘knife edge’ jump, which features a 23deg slope. The art will be balancing speed on the approach.

“If you're a bit too fast over the jump, you just fly further, and you risk a really big moment,” says Cupra Abt racer Jutta Kleinschmidt. “The approach is very fast, so you have to brake a bit - but the key is trying not to lose pace.”

Mud, mud, glorious mud

The course also features something else new to Extreme E that is a familiar sight in the British countryside in December: mud, and lots of it. That wasn’t something the teams faced in, say, the Saudi desert or the frozen wilds of Greenland.

Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, who drives for Jenson Button’s JBXE team, said: “I expected it to be muddy, but the start line in particular is just insane.”

Chip Ganassi’s Kyle LeDuc, meanwhile, simply described it as “a disaster”. 

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The tracks at Bovington run over several different surfaces, and certain parts of the course have more traction than others, but it’s definitely going to reward drivers who have experience of such surfaces.

“It’s actually a lot of fun,” said Rosberg Xtreme Racing’s Molly Taylor, who has experience of rallying in Britain. “There’s a lot of sliding around, which makes it very challenging. The big challenge will be visibility: it was hard to see through the mud at times when we were running alone in practice.”

The title is up for grabs

Taylor and team-mate Johan Kristoffersson lead the points heading into the event and so are the firm title favourites this weekend. The pair have won three of the four event finals, including the most recent in Sardinia, and have a 21-point title lead.

But X44 duo Cristina Gutiérrez and Sébastien Loeb have used strong form in qualifying to keep in contention, while the Andretti United Extreme E and JBXE squads are both in with a chance, on 93 and 92 points respectively.

A new challenge for the buggy

This will be the first time Extreme E’s 550bhp electric Spark Odyssey 21 racer has competed in such heavy mud, but organisers aren’t anticipating any issues. With the series travelling between events on its own ship (which is docked in Poole Harbour for the weekend), the 4x4 was designed to run across a variety of surfaces with few changes.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that racing in Dorset in December has presented is generating the energy to charge the cars. They're all charged on site using electricity generated from a hydrogen-fuelled generator run by AFC Energy.

At most events, that hydrogen is created from energy captured from an array of solar panels laid out in the weeks before the event – but with sunlight hard to come by in the UK in December, the firm has brought a supply of green hydrogen that was sustainably generated in Scotland.

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