The third season of Extreme E got underway at the beginning of March this year. The series began rounds one and two on the Red Sea shores in Saudi Arabia where drivers raced at high speeds along the coastline before heading into the desert to fight for a win. It was announced earlier in March how the series will be returning to the United Kingdom, more specifically Scotland. The third and fourth rounds of the season took place on the former Glenmuckloch opencast coal mine site in Dumfries and Galloway last weekend.
But what is Extreme E?
This series is an FIA-sanctioned international off-road racing series which races in some of the most extreme parts of the world to bring awareness to the impact climate change has already had on the planet. All racing locations are chosen to raise awareness for some aspects of climate change. There are 10 teams in this championship, each consisting of a female and a male driver who share equal driving duties. Iconic names like Chip Ganassi, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz Sr are just some of the names trying to promote racing in a more sustainable environment.
To make sure the series is as sustainable as possible the vehicles and infrastructure are travelled to each of the rounds by a ship called the St. Helena – which was built in Aberdeen over 30 years ago. The ship was revamped by Extreme E to start reducing its carbon footprint. The engines were rebuilt so they run on low-sulphur marine diesel, the underwater sections were painted with anti-fouling paint which reduces CO2 emissions, and the propellers were refurbished to reduce friction. On board the ship, a scientific laboratory was built for scientists to come aboard and conduct research to find new ways to help combat climate change.
What is Extreme E doing for the environment?
As well as their work on the ship, five legacy projects have been planned for off the ship at the five different locations they will be travelling to throughout the season. Four scientists that focus on key areas like the marine, the artic, the desertification and the Amazon are a part of the scientific committee. They come up with legacy projects and initiatives for Extreme E to do when they are at a location. Their legacy project for Saudi Arabia consisted of releasing Arabian oryx, Red Necked ostriches and Arabian Sand gazelles, all three of these species have not roamed freely for over a century.
Heading to Scotland the legacy project set out for Dumfries and Galloway was the restoration of the River Nith and preserving the Atlantic salmon. Scotland faces extreme rainfall which affects wildlife habitats and due to rising water temperatures ecosystems are finding it harder to survive. Air and water temperature sensors were put in place to help monitor the temperatures, acid levels and pollution in the waters. The sensors also help measure the size and quality of young fish that are born here. Teams and drivers planted trees to help reinforce the riverbanks and provide a new habitat for creatures, they also put up fencing to keep any livestock away from the river and these new trees.
After getting the opportunity to attend Extreme E to watch some free practice and also learn more about this series, it really opened my eyes to the incredible work that really goes into this championship. When I got there, I learned that there are no tickets available for spectators to come and watch a race in person, this is to make sure that carbon footprints are kept to the minimum. Extreme E relies heavily on online and streaming services, their races are broadcast on TV, YouTube and other social feeds and they also have a docu-series available for more behind-the-scenes footage. As well as minimising spectators, teams themselves can only bring eight people to each event, this includes their two drivers, one engineer and five mechanics. Editing and other key broadcasting aspects are all done remotely from London. Their “Race without a Trace” ethos is about embracing positive change in attitudes toward environmental sustainability, identify where waste and carbon impact can be minimised, and trying to create as much influence as possible.
This championship is an interesting concept and is taking a step in the right direction to find more sustainable ways to race. It highlights key locations around the world and signifies the climate issues impacting that area. Now with Extreme E expanding its locations and widening their viewer reach, I think it could become a huge series in the coming years.
We caught up with three Motorsport officials that were supporting the event to get their perspectives on this radical new concept of electric racing. Pete Weall (Steward), Renny Thomson (Scrutineer) and Claire Greenhill (Paramedic).
Early this year, I was asked if I might be available as Steward for four days in May. The event was a round of Extreme E to be held in Scotland but at that time, little else was known and certainly not in the public domain. I had heard of the format but knew little about it so I watched the TV coverage of the previous round held in Saudi but this did not really prepare me for what I was to experience.
While I was appointed by Motorsport UK as the National Steward, my role was as part of a three person Steward Panel headed by the panel chairman who is appointed by the championship and attends all of the events. Also present was an International Steward appointed by Motorsport UK who had done the same role the last time Extreme E was in the UK in 2021. For me, this was to be a very new experience.
One thing became clear to me was that Extreme E is a reality TV show with a motorsport theme. The event was not run under Motorsport UK “Blue Book” rules but to the specific rules of the Extreme E format which are in turn guided by relevant FIA regulations. Having said that, our role as Stewards was much as it would be at any similar International Permit event taking an overview position on matters of safety and acting as a Judicial body applying the rules.
The combination of unfamiliar bespoke rules linked to the overarching need to meet a live TV schedule presents the Stewards with a particular challenge. Each on track incident had to be reviewed very quickly and any penalty applied in time for the event podium. I have seen this happen on TV when watching F1 coverage but being part of that decision making process in that way was a first for me.
There has been considerable debate on social media around the sustainability aspect of Extreme E and there is no escaping that there was no shortage of fossil fuel vehicles at the venue. At the same time, the power generation for the whole site was from a Hydrogen generation system. Anyone watching the TV coverage, as well as watching the racing, saw multiple items drawing attention to the global climate emergency and the need for action. Extreme E is not the answer to that action but is an opportunity to highlight the issues.
A few months ago, I was invited to be part of the scrutineering team when Extreme E was due to visit Scotland. For anyone that hasn’t seen it, either online, or on TV, the format for Extreme E is rather like Rallycross, with five vehicles starting together and racing to be first across the finish after four laps. The terrain is rather extreme, and with a 2.5km lap, akin to a big comp safari or hill rally stage. The cars are big, on tyres measuring 37” diameter, more akin to desert challenge vehicles than what we normally see at cross country events.
However, there are differences from conventional events. There are two drivers with a change over at the end of the second lap. One driver male, the other female, and to ensure that safety at the driver changes was not compromised, a minimum time limit of 45 seconds was in place. The other big difference from normal was the vehicles are powered by electricity, with 400kg battery packs providing the energy to two electric motors. I’ve been part of the scrutineering team at Formula E, so the concept of 800v power systems wasn’t new, but mixing in the inevitable mud and water of cross country added another element. Charging was provided by a hydrogen powered generator contained in a 20′ shipping container, indeed this provided all the electrical power for the event from the catering, the media centre, the team garages, and back-up battery stores which use repurposed EV batteries as well as the cars.
Other than the power units, the cars were conventional spaceframe construction, covered by composite bodywork, with long travel suspension, just everything was a bit bigger and heavier. The cars weighed just under 2000kg without the driver. Safety equipment included FIA homologated seats and belts, plumbed in and hand held extinguishers, and the crew wore fire resistant clothing, helmets and FHRs, just the same as in international rallies. All of these were checked at pre-event scrutineering, with the biggest challenge being checking the competition numbers on the roof, about 8′ off the ground.
Once the competition started, it was the usual checks for us. Some were tasked with checking dimensions and weights before the cars went into Parc Ferme, where all that could be done was charging the battery, downloading data, and cleaning. Scrutineers were tasked with observing that these restrictions were not broken. This also meant accompanying the cars when they were washed on returning to the paddock. In some cases, this took over an hour with two or even three mechanics pressure washing each car.
In summary, for us, although it was different from what most of us are used to, there were a lot of similarities to conventional competition cars. The biggest difference was the power unit being an electric motor rather than an internal combustion engine and fuel store of a battery rather than a petrol tank. In the not too distant future, that may change as green hydrogen may be the fuel and the power unit may be either a fuel cell, or even an internal combustion engine. It was interesting to see broken body panels being collected to be recycled, and the tyres were also going to be recycled, converted into matting, road materials, or as raw material for new tyres.
Embracing these changes should mean that we still have competitive motorsport in the future. It may sound different, be less polluting, less wasteful of resources, possibly with spectators viewing the event remotely rather than being there in person. The evolution has already started. Formula E started off with cars that couldn’t complete a full race distance, but the Gen 3 cars have more power, more range and higher efficiency. These engineering and technological developments are feeding into current road cars. Maybe in 5 years or so, we’ll be driving and competing in cars powered by hydrogen or maybe synthetic petrol…
Initial impressions when driving on to site was how compact the site was. Lots of beige tents creating a little village to host this very unique event.
The site was very quiet compared with other events I have attended but there was still that amazing pre-race buzz everywhere. The pit lane was a row of small tents, each housing a different team and their vehicle, there was no fancy team lorries housing a huge entourage of team members it seemed far more modest in that respect.
During the races, although very quiet with no engine noise, there was a huge level of anticipation around what the challenging course would throw at competitors… it did not disappoint. The Scottish weather added to the challenges facing the drivers. It was amazing to see that all teams were a male/female duo.
It was lovely to see lots of familiar faces in the teams of marshals, officials and scrutineers required to run the event.
Medical provision was of a very high standard at this event. Two extrication teams including medics provided the on track cover. The on site medical tent was staffed by paramedics, EMTs and ED Consultants, it was capable of dealing with anything from minor injuries right up to two patients fully ventilated. There were two road ambulances and a dedicated air ambulance helicopter on site to deal with any off site transfers required. Pre-race extrication drills, live play scenarios, table top exercises and briefings ensured the team were all clear on what was expected during the race.
Sustainability was a key aspect of this event. Catering was provided by a company using local produce, reducing carbon footprint and minimising waste. Everyone was asked to supply their own crockery, cups and cutlery with areas to wash up being provided. Refillable water stations were spread throughout the site.
It was a very enjoyable, unique event overall. We were made to feel like part of the Extreme E family from the minute we arrived on site.
Find out more about the Odyssey 21 cars, their tyres, battery and suspension.