Electric SUVs racing in the Himalayas and the Amazon? Meet Extreme E

We’re long-time fans of Formula E here at Ars. Sure, some purists will whine like a Hewland gearbox about the lack of internal combustion noise, but I’m sure horse racing fans made the opposite complaint at the turn of the 20th century when cars started being used in competition. Formula E has doggedly stuck with its game plan of doing motorsport differently, with all-electric cars powered by renewable energy racing in places where electric vehicles make the most sense—city centers.

Now, some of the brains behind Formula E have a new electric racing idea for us—one that’s radically different from these cool-but-identical-looking single-seaters battling head to head. It’s called Extreme E (agreed, not the best name), and it’s an electric off-road racing series. This won’t be a test of long-distance endurance like the Dakar but will take place in equally spectacular locations around the world: the Himalayas, the Sahara, the Amazon, the Arctic, and islands in the Indian Ocean. Each place has been chosen both for its outstanding natural beauty and the threats it faces by climate change.

The cars, which have yet to be built, will use custom chassis built by Spark and will look like real road cars—or perhaps like real road cars that have been modified to meet the needs of off-road racing. They will be powered with a pair of Formula E-spec motors (so 500kW/670hp in total), with a battery specially developed for the series by McLaren.

Extreme E says the race format will be “a traditional round-robin… 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 around 6-10km [3.7-6.2 miles] in length with a series of virtual gates to be navigated through by drivers—in a mixture of extreme heat and humidity, high altitude and sub-zero temperatures.”

To get to each of these remote locations, Extreme E will use the refurbished RMS , a 7,000-ton ship that previously spent its life delivering the mail to the remote South Atlantic island of the same name. According to journalist Hazel Southwell (who was present at the series launch in London on Thursday),  is to be fitted with a giant kite in order to harness the wind on its journey around the world. (I covered a similar idea back in 2008, called “SkySails”.) The ship will also serve as Extreme E’s “floating paddock,” which suggests that the races won’t take place too far inland.

The series is fully funded, with Continental Tires as both a backer and the tire supplier, along with a company called CBMM, which will provide the niobium to be used in the SUV chassis. And since spectating live will be a bit of a hassle, Fisher Stevens is on board as the sport’s artistic director to create a ” meets Dakar” documentary series.

I’m sure the purists will complain—they always do—but I’m looking forward to watching once it kicks off in 2021.

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