The first-ever Extreme E electric off-road race, held in the desert of Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia, is done and dusted. Anyone who tuned into Extreme E’s live feed on YouTube yesterday was in for quite a show. Besides the “racing with a conscience” and “clean energy” agenda, there were some major collisions, pointing to a couple of aspects to the brand-new racing series that will need to be looked at.
At the centre of the two biggest accidents was German racing driver Claudia Hurtgen of team ABT Cupra, who flung her Extreme E machine into a spectacular barrel roll at the steepest part of the challenging course during the first qualifying session.
Remarkably, Hurtgen emerged unscathed and the ABT Cupra mechanics were able to rebuild the electric racing car for the Shootout race the following day. Unfortunately, yet more drama lay in wait for the hapless Hurtgen.
Having taken over from teammate Mattias Ekstrom who had put their ABT Cupra into the lead of the Shootout race, Hurtgen approached the same treacherous downhill stretch where she’d come unstuck the day before, she backed off the pace to navigate it cautiously, and, unsighted in the dust, American driver Kyle Ledic of Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing collected her from behind (watch the sickening incident in the video below).
Amazingly, once again, all protagonists emerged from their electric wreaks unscathed, but it underlined a major oversight by the organisers in forcing the cars to race wheel-to-wheel on the dusty stage. The qualifying rounds against the clock were sensible and entertaining enough, but the final races bordered on farcical with the car that got to the first turn first essentially winning the race as competitors following had to back off due to lack of visibility.
In the end, Johann Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor of Rosberg X Racing came out on top in the final and were declared inaugural Extreme E winners. But anyone who watched the action will agree the format needs a rethink, perhaps shifting to a time-trial system like you’ll find in the World Rally Championship, or with stages and staggered starts like the Dakar Rally. Although, cars following in dust might not be an issue at the next rounds – the E Glacier and E Arctic – set to be held in the snow and ice of Nepal and Greenland respectively.
Nevertheless, there’s much to like about Extreme E. Masterminded by Formula E founder, Alejandro Agag, the electric off-road racing series is meant to highlight the protection of natural habitats by racing in the most extreme ecosystems in the world. As we saw this weekend, it’s not just the locations; the racing is pretty extreme as well.
Upcoming Extreme E events:
Extreme E Glacier: 14-15 May 2021, Kali Gandaki Valley, Nepal
Extreme E Artic: 28-29 August 2021, Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
Extreme E Amazon: 30-31 October 2021, Santarem, Para, Brazil