Extreme E: can motorsport save the planet?
Image credit: Charley Lopez
A new racing series is coming to the outlands, aimed at raising awareness of a range of ecological issues across the globe.
The world has changed tremendously over the last century, all thanks to the brilliant minds of humans. Indeed, humanity has thrived in its technological developments over the decades, particularly in cars, our main means of transport.
Yet “transport is responsible for 15 per cent of annual emissions globally,” says Formula E founder Alejandro Agag, “and it’s crucial we look to accelerate the adoption of clean-energy mobility if we are to slow the effects of climate change.”
A new racing series called Extreme E aims to raise awareness of electrification and sustainability and will take place in locations the majority of us will probably never visit. A brainchild of Agag, the series will race in five harsh locations around the world: the desert, ocean, Arctic, glacier and the Amazon rainforest. It is hoped the series will “raise awareness of the climate crisis affecting our planet and the solutions we must all take, now, which include the adoption of low-carbon energy alternatives, for a healthier future”.
Broadcasting such issues through sport may not be a bad idea. “We believe we can reach new audiences with these important messages who might not choose to watch science documentaries,” says Agag. “It’s an ambitious mission, but unless we showcase the harm being inflicted in those locations, which are often furthest from usual view but suffering the most, we can’t inspire the action that is needed.”
Agag says that as well as raising awareness, Extreme E will be the first motorsport in the world to field one male and one female driver in each team, “to encourage female participation and promote an equal gender playing field in sport”.
Each race, which will be known as an X Prix, will incorporate two laps per heat over a distance of approximately 16km (10 miles). Four teams will race head-to-head in each heat, with the drivers completing a lap each, over the two-day event. The circuits will feature natural challenges where drivers and teams will be pushed to the limits of their abilities; hazards to navigate will include extreme gradients, jumps, banks, berms, pits, dunes and water splashes.
Participating Extreme E teams will be using an electric SUV, which the organisation has named Odyssey 21. According to Agag, the reason behind using an SUV is that these vehicles represent the most popular, but also the most polluting, consumer vehicle models. According to the International Energy Agency, SUVs alone were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2018 behind only the power industry. Agag believes that showcasing SUVs with electric counterparts will promote their benefits from both performance and eco-friendly perspectives.
The charging technology used to power the vehicles will also be zero-emission. The team is working with AFC Energy on a world-first use of hydrogen fuel-cell power generation – a system that uses water and solar power to create an off-grid electricity source. The only by-product is water, which can then be used elsewhere on site.
The battery in the SUV will be produced by Williams Advanced Engineering; Agag says it will be the most challenging battery the firm has had to make due to the harsh racing conditions – such as the temperatures and terrain. “They will use the series as a testbed for the acceleration of battery technology in their ever-important quest to improve consumer vehicle battery ranges and performance,” he adds.
The vehicle will consist of a niobium-reinforced steel alloy tubular frame, which, according to Agag, is a more sustainably sourced metal that is lighter than its alternatives and has a direct benefit on fuel and energy consumption. The bodywork of the car is made of tightly woven plant fibres instead of carbon fibre, so when the vehicle is no longer useable, this shell can be recycled or repurposed, Agag explains.
Extreme E is using tyres from manufacturing company Continental made out of a material called Taraxagum, which uses dandelion extract to produce a more sustainable alternative to rubber.
As well as making the vehicles as sustainable as possible, Agag tells E&T that travelling from one location to another will also be environmentally viable. The passenger cargo vessel St Helena, formerly used to supply the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, will be used for freight transport and logistics throughout the series. “Sea shipping, while not electric, is estimated to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the series by two-thirds in comparison to air freight,” Agag explains.
While on location, Extreme E aims to make the broadcasting operations as green as possible. The live racing will be captured through a cutting-edge mix of track, on-board, and live drone cameras, and an innovative suite of data-driven augmented-reality and virtual-reality graphics, showcasing the action. “These visuals could include projecting the expected sea-level rise over the next decades onto our race-track alongside the Atlantic in Senegal, to showing the expected retreat of the Arctic ice cap in Greenland,” Agag explains.
The production will make use of advanced remote technology, minimising on-site footprint with all shows mastered in London, in real-time, direct from all of the championship’s global locations.
It is hoped that the combination of track, car, and Earth data will create a hugely informative and immersive experience for its viewers. “Environmental storytelling will certainly play a key role in our broadcast,” says Agag.
In October 2019, Extreme E revealed that a damaged region in the Brazilian state of Pará will host the Amazon rainforest round. Agag says the race will take place in the region of Santarém, which has already witnessed deforestation and been severely impacted by fire damage.
Extreme E announced in December 2019 that the series will head to Lac Rose in Senegal for its ocean race location. The team said the series will race on existing routes around Lac Rose – also known as Lake Retba – and course design will be made with the least amount of disruption to the local environment.
The series will support five different projects, called Legacy Programmes, in each of the series’ race locations. These projects aim to provide positive social and environmental support to each location, relating to specific local needs.
For example, in Senegal, the series has teamed up with local NGO Oceanium to plant one million mangrove trees – an ecosystem in the region that has been lost over the years due to drought and deforestation.
Meanwhile, at its rainforest location, it is supporting the Nature Conservancy’s Forest Restoration programme, where they’ll be securing 100 hectares of existing forest, restoring 100 hectares of native forest, and will maintain more than 200 hectares of a cacao-based agroforestry programme. Such lasting legacies will also include clean-up operations and solar-power initiatives.
The series has consulted with ecological experts to ensure the impact of its presence in these areas will be kept to a minimum, while scientists will also travel with the teams to investigate the effects of climate change.
The involvement of a notable name in motorsport is also hoped to increase the audience of the series. Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton recently announced that he plans to enter his X44 team into the series due to its “environmental focus”. There are two UK teams confirmed for the series, which will also feature entrants from the US, Germany, Spain and Indonesia.
“Every single one of us has the power to make a difference, and it means so much to me that I can use my love of racing, together with my love for our planet, to have a positive impact,” Hamilton said when announcing the news. He will not race himself, but will “help guide a dedicated team”.
While Agag’s Formula E series focuses on accelerating e-mobility technology for cleaner air in our cities, Extreme E takes a different approach. “It takes the narrative to a more extreme level,” he explains, “linking our everyday actions to the situations facing remote locations at the front line of the climate emergency, while showcasing electric vehicles, which are more easily relatable to consumers.”
Extreme E will be broadcast live across the BBC, starting in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on 20-21 March 2021.
Extreme E Season 1 Calendar
20-21 March: AlUla, Saudi Arabia (Desert X Prix)
29-30 May: Lac Rose, Dakar, Senegal (Ocean X Prix)
28-29 August: Kangerlussusaq, Greenland (Arctic X Prix)
23-24 October: Pará, Brazil (Amazon X Prix)
11-12 December: Patagonia, Argentina (Glacier X Prix)
Overall length: 4.4m
Overall width: 2.3m
Overall height: 1.86m
Front track: 1.99m
Rear track: 1.99m
Ride height: 450mm
Maximum power: 400kW (550hp)
Total e-motor torque: 920Nm
Top speed: 200km/h (124mph)
Acceleration: 0-100km/h (0-62mph) 4.5 seconds
Gradient capability: 40° (80% slope) to 53° (130% slope est. depending on surface)
Suspension: travel 385mm
Specification parts: Tubular frame constructed of niobium-reinforced steel alloy.
Suspension and dampers: Double wishbone with three- way adjustable mono-damper. Hydraulic bump and rebound stop.
Braking: Six-piston Alcon caliper. Iron disc and pads.
Steering: Electrical power-steering system.
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