Launching a new type of motorsport event can be a difficult task in today’s society. It is not only a task of finding a new type of racing that hasn’t already been done, but also balancing this with the environmental and economic impact it would have on the world and places the new sport visited. Take Formula 1 for example. If F1 was set up as a new sport today, the emissions produced by all of the setup involved, and the effect the Formula 1 circus would have on the local landscape would leave lasting effects that many in todays society would question the environmental sustainability. Motorsport therefore have to think differently.
In 2011, we saw the launch of the all-electric Formula E series, setup by Spanish Businessman Alejandro Agag. We’ve seen this racing series grow from strength to strength over the years as we carve the future of EV racing around the World.
In 2018, Agag launched another form of electric motorsport. This time, in the form of Extreme E. A new, off-road electric racing series, who’s mission is to travel to remote locations around in raising awareness for areas seriously affected by climate change, as well as highlighting areas that are leading the fight against climate change.
Gallery: Extreme E Hydro X Prix in Scotland 2023
Extreme E’s approach to motorsport is quite refreshing. The series legacy is not only to highlight areas affected by severe climate change, but also to never leave evidence that the racing even took place in that area. Spectators are not allowed at races, and race vehicles themselves are transported by a specific Extreme E container ship, which the sport argues uses 75% less CO2 than air freight. What’s more, at each race the events staff and participants plant resident trees at each location to preserve the area for the future.
Another part of Extreme E’s legacy is gender quality. Each of the 10 teams is made up of both a male and female driver, who share equal driving duties.
Each of the electric SUVs are built by the same manufacturer that builds the race cars for Formula E. Dubbed the Odyssey 21, the 1780 kilograms oversized SUV is fitted with a 54 kwh battery, capable of producing 500 bhp and propelling it to 62 mph from a standstill in 4.5 seconds at gradients of up to 130%. What’s amazing is that all of this can be charged with the same CCS EV plug that you or I could use in an EV meant for the road.
When we think of extreme locations hit by climate change, we often don’t think of anything close to home in the UK. Extreme E has had rounds on the costal eroded cliffs of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, and most recently has visited Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, which I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest of Cupra, who are one of the 10 teams now on board with the electric racing series.
The location chosen was Glenmuckloch coal mine, an open, disused mine just over an hours drive from Glasgow. The open mine is undergoing a major transformation, and will be filled with water and converted into a Pumped Storage Hydropower plant and wind farm, generating renewable electricity. The off road course that the Extreme E SUVs were using would be soon the bottom of a very deep water reservoir, and the series therefore dubbed this race as the Hydro X Prix.
The ten teams were split into two equal heats, which was a joy to watch the electric SUVs shoot up from the bottom of the mine. Completion was fierce between the teams in the qualifying heat, with occasional contact between SUVs. Each driver has the availability to use ‘hyperdrive’ at some point during each heat, giving them a temporary boost for overtaking or needing extra power. This same technology is put into Cupra’s Born e-boost model, similar to Formula 1’s push to pass system. It is rather cool to see this technology transform down into Cupras road cars.
The Cupra driver, Klara Andersson used her Hyperdrive boost from the start line, launching her up the inside of her competitors. The SUVs went three drivers abreast as they climbed the first hill out of the mine. Unfortunately, the track was too narrow to fit three teams on it together, resulting in the ABT Cupra SUV being forced into hay bales lining the side of track, forcing Andersson into a spectacular accident, rolling the car on several occasions.
Miraculously, she emerged without a scratch. The tub housing the drivers inside the Odyssey 21, alongside the seats and harnesses holding the drivers into place, keeps them safe in accidents such as this.
The accident resulted in a wheel being snapped clean off the axle on the front end of the competing SUV, along with extensive damage to the rear. The ABT Cupra SUV was then transported back to the temporary team tent, where mechanics worked meticulously over the next three hours to repair the car in time for the race. The fast working mechanics were like a whirlwind, removing and replacing parts, which attracted quite a crowd. You could really feel the tension and the willingness to have the car ready in time as the mechanics worked.
Despite their best efforts, the ABT Cupra team unfortunately had an electrical problem, and although the car was physically back in shape and ready to race again, their electrical problems meant that they were unable to progress to the race, much to the disappointment of the hardworking mechanics and crowd of onlookers who had witnessed the past three hours of work that had been put into it.
The race continued with just 4 teams competing, and after another spectacular crash for Rosberg X Racing, which almost resulted in the SUV rolling down the side of the mine, the exciting race was eventually won by X44 Vida Carbon Racing, a team started by Formula 1 sensation, Lewis Hamilton.
They say seeing a motorsport event with your own eyes is more boring than watching the event on TV. This is because you are forced to stand in one area and only see a brief snippet of the race. With Extreme E, I felt it was the complete opposite situation, as you could really feel the emotions from the ABT Cupra team as they worked to fix their SUV. There was a real buzz in the atmosphere that I can only hope was portrayed to the many viewers watching on tv at home.
We have to admire motorsports like Formula E and Extreme E, as they experiment with technology that we will no doubt see in future eV road cars. The Cupra Born E-boost ‘push to pass’ button is evidence of this. ABT Cupra’s car was dubbed the Tavascan Concept, and have now launched their road going version, the Tavascan. This all-electric, mid-sized SUV becomes Cupras newest standalone model, taking influence from the experience gained at Extreme E races. But what is next for Extreme E?
An interview with founder Alejandro Agag gave us an insight into what was next for the sport. The Spanish businessman spoke about the limitations for EVs in the current climate. Travelling to remote locations around the world presents challenges for sourcing electric for the vehicles. Extreme E have solved this issue by using hydrogen fuel cells to power all of their chargers for all cars on site. This further adds to the sustainability of the sport.
Agag also sees the sport moving to full hydrogen power in the future, as the technology further develops. Whilst the EV SUVs have a short range of approximately 50 kilometres across harsh terrain at top speed, hydrogen power would increase this range, meaning Extreme E could branch into longer races. The founder also sees the introduction of spectators at races too, providing there is no environmental impact. For example, if the race is taking place at a location that regularly hosts a large amount of people, such as an outdoor concert venue, then the risk of having larger crowds at the event is lowered significantly.
Having the opportunity to attend an Extreme E race in the UK open my eyes to the sport even further and allowed me to understand the sustainability aspect and raising awareness for climate change by Extreme E. One can only hope that others are able to experience the same, either through a television screen or in person at some point in the not too distant future.