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Sand, speed, twists & turns – Extreme E takes the desert route to its home straight

 

The latest stage in the Extreme E electric odyssey took the race series to Chile – where it had a date with one of the driest places on earth. The Antofagasta Minerals Copper X Prix presented the competitors with a very special challenge.

 

Around two months on from the Island X Prix in the stifling heat of Sardinia, it was time for the Extreme E teams to pack their bags once again. As it turned out, the military base on the Mediterranean island had provided fine preparation for the next destination on the Extreme E calendar (link to Island X Prix review). After all, while the Atacama Desert may not be quite as hot as mid-summer Sardinia, it is quite a bit drier.

Taking a look around base camp at the Copper X Prix course, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d pitched up on Mars or the moon. This is a place where the sand stretches for miles on end, encircling the tents – including Continental’s bright-orange-colored workshop. Here, the Conti technical crew were ever-present with course-side advice and practical help for the drivers and everyone else involved.

 

Speaking of the course, this was certainly a special one. While the principal challenges facing the teams in Sardinia were ultra-narrow tracks and jarring potholes, this time wide open spaces were the order of the day. That meant the drivers had plenty of room to attempt risky overtakes, but it was also a rollercoaster ride that pushed them to the limits: tight corners, jumps and hard drops all lay in wait, leaving the Odyssey 21 electric racing SUVs shaken and stirred.

The sand provided an obstacle in itself – not just as it shifted around under the tires, but also each time it was hurled against the windscreens of the racing machines.

This, then, was a serious undertaking, and one that produced some thrilling race action. The Rosberg X Racing team of Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johan Kristofferson once again got themselves into a promising position. But in a sudden turnaround of fortunes, technical issues intervened to prevent the defending champions and favorites for this year’s crown from making the Final. Instead, Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Kristofferson could only stand by and watch as X44 Vida Carbon Racing took victory, setting up a heart-stopping climax to the season at the last race in Uruguay.

“It was a very tough race so I was surprised to get the fastest lap,” said X44’s race winner Cristina Gutiérrez (via Extreme E / https://www.extreme-e.com/en/news/676_X44-Vida-Carbon-Racing-claim-first-win-of-Extreme-E-Season-2-as-title-fight-goes-down-to-the-wire). “But it shows what an incredible opportunity Extreme E is providing for female drivers to prove ourselves and show we can compete against some of the best drivers in the world.”  The result means Gutiérrez and team-mate Sébastien Loeb are still in with a shot of the title: “Now we go to Uruguay, which is very good for me as I love to race in South America,” added Gutiérrez. “Hopefully we can even get another race win and maybe the championship too.”

With X44’s victory, an exciting, energy-packed finale to the season awaits on November 27 – 28, 2022 in Uruguay – at the aptly named Energy X Prix.

Legacy Programme sets out to improve the situation on the ground

Sharing the spotlight with the racing was the issue of sustainability. Extreme E is hard at work at all the race venues on the calendar to help ease problems caused by climate change. Ahead of the race in Chile, the drivers travelled with local experts to the Loa River, which stretches 440 kilometers across the desert and is critical for the ecosystems along its path. 

Extreme E has teamed up with the Museum of Natural and Cultural History of the Atacama Desert and Minera Centinela to launch a project helping to protect the Loa water frog. This endangered species is vital to the upkeep of ecosystems in the area around Chile’s longest river – as both natural pest control and an important part of the food chain: “One of the main concerns of the scientists involved in the conservation of this species is the recovery of its habitat,” explained Professor Carlos Duarte, one of the experts on Extreme E’s team of scientists.

“Extreme E’s project involves the clearance and preparation of the release site near Calama for the reintroduction of the frogs into the Chilean desert,“ added Professor Duarte (via Extreme E / https://www.extreme-e.com/en/news/661_Extreme-E-reveals-Chile-Legacy-Programme). To this end, the Extreme E drivers joined a team from the museum and a delegation from Minera Centinela on a trip to Ojos de Opache to carry out work aimed at improving the habitat where the Loa water frog will be reintroduced.

Sustainability is high up on the Extreme E agenda above and beyond the Legacy Programmes. Check out the interview with Professor Richard Washington for greater insights here.

Extreme E offers Continental a technical playground in which to test out innovations under extreme conditions. These include using recycled PET bottles in the tires for Extreme E – a development that has since gone into series production.