Extreme E: Formula E’s Eco-Friendly Answer to Off-Road Racing

25 Mar 2019 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Jeremy Taylor

Blue Planet meets the Dakar Rally? Electric cars are set to enter the extreme off-road racing scene with a new global series launching in 2021

It started with a brainstorming session and now Extreme E is on its way to becoming the world’s first all-electric, off-road racing series, with a budget of tens of millions of pounds and events due to be held at five of the most remote locations on the planet.

A spin-off from the hugely successful Formula E track series, Extreme E was launched in London by motorsport legend and Indianapolis 500-winner Gil de Ferran and flamboyant Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag (the chairman of investment management firm Addax Capital LLP) in January this year. The first race for electric SUVs is due to take place in January 2021, with 12 teams expected on the grid.

The concept will cash in on the imminent boom in battery-powered SUVs. Tesla’s Model X and the Jaguar I-Pace are the two mainstream SUVs currently available, with the Audi E-tron launching Volkswagen Group’s electric offensive, Mercedes rushing to get the EQC to market, and the Porsche Taycan due in 2020.

Other manufacturers are also hot on the electric SUV trail – and Agag and his team have been in secret talks with many of them to encourage participation in the inaugural Extreme E series in two years’ time.“Formula E was a great concept, but it doesn’t use cars that people in the street can go out and buy. We thought this was a gap in motorsport that could be filled,” explains Agag, who originally dreamt up the concept of Formula E with former Ferrari F1 boss and now FIA president Jean Todt in 2011.

Agag is still chairman of Formula E – the series that has taken electric car racing to city-centre locations around the world and is currently in its fifth season. “I’m very proud of what we have achieved with Formula E. It is a leading global motorsport and on an upward trajectory.”

There are rumours that Formula E could appear in London again for the 2019/2020 season, too, after the capital slipped off the calendar due to complaints from local residents around the Battersea Park road circuit. “We are making good progress and hope to visit London again soon. It is my number one priority,” says Agag.

However, he will now turn some of his attention to Extreme E – Formula E’s off-road sibling. The logistics involved will be immense as proposed locations include the Himalayas, the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic.“Some of the places are damaged by climate change and by human pollution already. Extreme E wants to highlight the challenges these environments face, not try and gloss over them. It will play a key role in raising global awareness about things such as melting ice caps, deforestation and rising sea levels.”

Extreme E will be captured as a first-of-its-kind docu-sport TV series by filmmaker, Fisher Stevens, who won an Oscar in 2010 for Best Documentary Feature with The Cove. “Electric racing has become a passion for me, having worked alongside Leonardo [DiCaprio] to create a new documentary film to be released later this year on season four of Formula E. It tells not only the story of race car drivers, but also the story of how electric motorsport can have a pivotal role in helping us battle climate change,” says Stevens. “I think Extreme E is a revolutionary concept that can both continue the fight against climate change and help set new standards in how not only motorsport, but all sports can be broadcast. My focus will be on assembling a brilliant team. It should be Blue Planet meets Dakar.”

In 2013, Autosport magazine named de Ferran among 50 of the greatest drivers never to have raced in F1. Says the Brazilian of Extreme E: “This idea offers an adventure and entertainment concept that has never been seen or done before. Viewers can expect a completely new way of consuming sport, with each episode telling not just the story of a race, but the wider race of awareness and the need to protect these remote environments.”

Extreme E will use a traditional round-robin format with two groups of six teams, with the top-four progressing to the knock-out stage and each driver going head-to-head to earn a place in the final. The off-road stages will be up to eight miles in length, with a series of virtual gates to be navigated by drivers in a mixture of extreme heat, high altitude and sub-zero temperatures.

To overcome the logistical issues, Extreme E has devised an ingenious mode of transportation. All equipment will travel by sea on board the RMS St. Helena, a 7,000-ton former Royal Mail ship. The cargo liner will act as a ‘floating paddock’ and will be modernised and improved using renewable energy technologies.

Agag and his team will now spend the next 12 months scouting locations for the series. The Spaniard, who drives both an electric BMW i3 and i8, says he is aware that the eyes of the conservation world will be watching carefully as the schedule is announced.

“The global audience for Extreme E will heighten awareness of the current and future challenges that the world faces. We need responsible interaction with our environment and the protection of important ecosystems too.”