A new racing sensation has just seen its first season take place in Saudi Arabia. This is not Formula One, but more Mad Max and the Thunderdome. The vehicles look very futuristic, and indeed they run on electricity, and there is more to this racing than just the thrill of the sport. This desert-based racing is set to save the environment so let’s find out a little more.
Mother Nature at Her Finest
It is interesting to be racing in the desert, with sand, scorpions and snakes featuring as the backdrop. The track winds its way through this fantastic natural setting amongst the sandstone rocks while camel skeletons and other such delights lay off to the side. Known as Extreme E, this new motorsport focuses on the planet, and the creators have vowed that each location will be left in better condition than they found it because not only do you have the racing but the creation of legacy programs. In Saudi Arabia, the focus is on the endangered Hawksbill Sea turtle (which may surprise many in an area that is primarily desert). The XE team has established conservation programs that will run over the next 12 months to look after these fantastic creatures.
Of course, the vehicles being electric makes them better for the environment. It is certainly no secret that transport is one of the most damaging problems we face when it comes to carbon emissions. Cars and other vehicles account for 30% of the problem, so cleaning this up, as Professor of Climate Science at Oxford University Richard Washington explains, will give us a big step forward. The cars are certainly like nothing we usually see on the roads. It is hoped that it will challenge people to think differently about the way they use vehicles and show just what a positive impact clean energy can have on the environment. Each racing vehicle has a 400-kW battery electric motor, and the design of the car is the same for everyone and known as the Spark Odyssey21. Charging is fast using hydrogen fuel cells, and this water which is needed for charging can also be reused locally wherever the teams are racing as an agricultural water source.
A Floating Home
When the teams move between events, they will also not be flying, as this has a large carbon footprint too. Instead, a former Royal mail ship, St Helena, has been upgraded to provide a floating hotel/home-from-home that can transport logistical equipment, cars, drivers, and other staff within the 62 cabins. To be more environmentally friendly, the ship has been converted to use only low sulphur marine diesel, as sadly, an electric engine in about the size was not practical. Every time the boat docks for racing, various local scientists are invited to hold a residency and give presentations and information to groups of people. There is also a research laboratory on the ship, and it is certainly attracting a lot of attention from environmental campaigners.
No Gender Stereotyping
It is also a very diverse group of people, and each team must have both a female and male driver. This is the first time it has ever been clearly mandated. There are still not many women competing at top level racing events, but there are certainly a lot of up-and-coming drivers who need the chance to show their skill. Both Jamie Chadwick and Catie Munnings, who are female drivers for Britain, will be taking part in this new championship. You may also recognise some of the male drivers, with Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula One champion owning a team and driving. Sir Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who are also Formula One legends, are team owners, although not drivers at this stage. It is indeed likely to be a scheduling issue for Hamilton as he is still competing in Formula One himself and trying to take yet another championship. There is no doubt that as this sport gains popularity, fans of the racing heroes are going to want to see them drive as well.
The course is pretty dangerous and has ten gates which create narrow sections of the course, so it is reasonably likely, given the conditions and dust that flies, whoever crosses through that first gate will remain in the lead unless accidents and car failure take them out. There is every risk of knocking off a wheel or flipping a car when it hits deep sand. There are already some spectacular crashes from Claudia Hurtgen and Stephane Sarrazin, which have been sent viral on YouTube. Extreme E has all the makings of becoming huge, with its quirky courses that are laid down by camels repeatedly walking the track. If you enjoy motorsport, this is certainly something to keep an eye on.