The whole concept of Extreme E is ludicrous. Utterly, utterly ludicrous.
Consider: it’s a new series for lightweight electric off-road racers producing 536bhp and 679lb ft that will compete in a series of contests in five of the world’s most remote locations, spanning four continents. So far, a little unusual.
The X Prix events will take the form of qualifying, semi-final and final sprints, staged on a two-lap run over on an off-road track around five miles in length. Teams of two – one male driver, one female – will take part, with a mid-race driver switch at the end of the lap. Okay, that’s quite odd.
The five event locations have been selected because they’ve all been damaged by human activity and climate change, with the goal of the Extreme E organisers being to raise awareness of such issues and support sustainability projects to repair their environments for the future. These efforts to promote sustainability will be overseen by an expert independent panel of scientists, drawn from Cambridge and Oxford universities. Right, then. It’s getting crazy now.
Anything else? Oh, yes: instead of flying to each location, the entire operation will be carried on a specially converted Royal Mail cargo ship that will double as a mobile environmental research laboratory. See? It’s absolutely ludicrous.
It’s a concept that’s like no other motorsport championship previously conceived – and one that seemingly stretches the boundaries of credibility. So why should we be taking Extreme E seriously? Well, for starters, because the man who created it has a proven track record of pulling off the seemingly impossible. That man is Alejandro Agag, the 49-year-old Spanish politician-turned-businessman-turned-motorsport team boss and the founder of Formula E.
While it’s now in its sixth season and supported by some of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, the basic concept of an electric single-seater championship met plenty of scepticism and doubt when Formula E was launched back in 2014. Many doubted it would even get to launch. And even when it did, some didn’t think it would survive.
“Extreme E is only possible because of what happened with Formula E,” says Agag, who remains chairman of the single-seater series. “It has been motivation for me: people have questioned whether Extreme E can actually happen, but less than they did when we launched Formula E. It has been key to giving us energy, and we’ve gained credibility.”
Extreme E was also shaped in part by Agag’s desire to create a series as far removed from Formula E as possible. “Formula E is based around single-seater racing cars,” he says, “so we wanted to do something based around road cars, and SUVs are an increasingly big market for manufacturers.
“And Formula E was designed to take part inside cities, so we went to the other extreme and sought out the most remote locations possible.”
Those five locations are key, with each based in a different environment – ocean, desert, glacier, arctic and rainforest – to showcase a range of ecological issues. While Formula E is designed to take electric cars to the public, Extreme E is about taking the public – virtually, at least – to the environment.
“From the beginning, a real priority has been to base the project in science,” says Agag. “Of course Extreme E is a race, a car race. But we want to use it as an instrument to tell the story of what’s going on in some of the most damaged ecosystems on the planet.”
That’s where the Scientific Committee comes in. Its four members will advise Extreme E bosses on how to minimise the environmental impact of the series, on research and education programmes and on legacy initiatives to support communities in each region visited. For example, for the ‘rainforest’ event in Brazil, Extreme E is working with a local project called The Nature Conservancy to restore several hundred hectares of the Amazon.