Off we go. On April 3 and 4, the spectacular new Extreme E off-road racing series will be celebrating its starting race in the Saudi Arabian desert. The first races involving the fully electronic, extremely fast ODYSSEY 21 cars will be held in AlUla, an oasis around 150 kilometres to the southwest of Tayma and 400 kilometres north-west of Medina. Various TV stations across Europe will be broadcasting the spectacular motor sports race live on both days. The excitement is mounting about which of the nine teams has made best use of its preparation time, as well as which will ultimately finish first after the difficult conditions of the desert stage.
“It will definitely be worth tuning in,” says Sandra Roslan, who is responsible for the project at Continental – founding partner and tire supplier for the series. “What awaits us will be thrilling images of spectacular motorsport action in a region of stunning beauty.” Climatic conditions at the location itself are unrelentingly harsh however. Heat, extremely low humidity, wind and fine sand will test the drivers and their hardware to extraordinary lengths during the first race of the Extreme E racing series.
The starting line-up will include motorsport legends such as former Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button, World Rallycross champions Johann Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen and Mattias Ekström, as well as World Rally champions Sébastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz. Among the female drivers will be Women’s Trial World Champion Laia Sanz, Continental test driver Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, who is part of Jenson Button’s team, and Sara Price, the 19-times winner of the US Motocross championship. Reigning W Series title defender Jamie Chadwick and Molly Taylor, a former Australian Rally champion, also complete the line up.
All teams will be driving E-SUVs known as ODYSSEY 21s. With a length of 440 cm, width of 230 cm and height of 186 cm, this exceptional vehicle has roughly the same dimensions as commercially available SUVs; and there’s nothing extraordinary about its 300 cm wheel base either. However, with an electrical equivalent of around 550 hp, these vehicles manufactured by racing manufacturer Spark Racing Technology are real powerhouses – and weigh in at just 1,780 kilogrammes. By comparison, the average Rally Dakar vehicle has around 300 hp and weighs more than two metric tons. Figures for acceleration are equally impressive. Powered by two electric motors, the SUVs go from standstill to 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds, and can also negotiate inclines of around 55 degrees with ease. In order to bring so much power to the track safely in all the different climate zone conditions, all teams in the new off-road racing series will be relying on the 37-inch CrossContact Extreme E racing tire, which has been specially developed by Continental for this purpose.
“Yet far from just offering some exciting motorsport, the Extreme E racing series aims to draw attention to the negative consequences of global warming through the choice of tracks close to endangered biotopes,” explains Sandra. “As a result, the goal of this racing is to encourage motorsport fans worldwide as well as the spectators, politicians and local authorities at the venues to step up their efforts to limit global warming further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” Saudi Arabia was chosen because the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert is not just an environment with living conditions that could scarcely be harsher, but also a unique ecosystem highly worthy of protection. In AlUla, the venue for the Extreme E world premiere, global warming is not only accelerating erosion of the 110 monumental tombs, which were cut into the sandstone there around 2,000 years ago. The town is even mentioned in the bible under the name of Dadan and was once the main location of the Lihyan Kingdom. AlUla was the hub of various ancient trade routes and is extremely important from a cultural and historical point of view, being at the centre of numerous sites of archeological finds. The excavation site at Mada’in Salih is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia since 2008 for example.
The 2021 season at a glance:
AlUla, Saudi Arabia - April 3/4
Dakar, Senegal - May 29/30
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland - August 28/29
Santarem, Brazil - October 23/24
Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego - December 11/12