ALULA: With shakedowns complete, the scene is set for the launch of inaugural Extreme E event in Saudi Arabia this weekend with the Desert X Prix across the desrert terrain of AlUla.
Saturday will see the first ever races of the electric SUV series with the qualifying rounds, while Sunday will see the two semi-finals and final.
“This is a very special day. Extreme E was such an out-of-the-box idea that many people didn’t think it would ever happen, even I didn’t know if we would get to this day,” Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Extreme E, said. “In these Covid times, it would have been impossible to organise this event without the incredible support of our hosts and our teams, and I must thank Saudi Arabia for welcoming us. We are getting ready for something amazing this weekend.”
“I call Extreme E the biggest experiment ever seen in motorsport, and this weekend is like a test and race all at the same time,” he added. “We have an amazing line-up. If you add up all the world championships on the grid amongst drivers and team owners, there are more than 40 in total. Then we have the gender equality aspect and the major innovation of the Command Centre, which sees us putting all of these rivals together in the same room. It’s incredible, and these electric SUVs are going to put on a great show. We’re ready to race.”
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile & Motor Federation revealed what it meant to him and the Kingdom to host the first Extreme E event.
“We have a big population that likes motorsport and entertainment, and have been working with Alejandro since 2017 on Formula E, which marked our first major international motorsport event,” he said. “We are very honored to be working with Alejandro and his team again on such an ambitious new project. We are from the desert and have the best place for rallies, so to combine electric technology with rallying means Extreme E really fits well with our plans for sustainability and the future in Saudi Arabia.”
All 18 competitors, from the nine teams, had the opportunity to sample the 18km course – centred around three canyons in the vast desert surrounding AlUla – behind the wheel of the ODYSSEY 21, giving them their first taste of what the weekend will have in store.
“It’s exciting to be here, with so many great teams and drivers from around the world,” said former Formula 1 champion Jenson Button, now driving for JBXE, during a virtual press conference. “It’s very special to be a part of this. It’s been great to share the dirt with those guys, although my world championship obviously came on asphalt, so it’s been a bit of a shock. I’ve done a bit of off-roading before in a rally car, but nothing like this in the sand and the ODYSSEY 21 is a very different vehicle. I’ve never previously driven four wheel-drive. It’s certainly extreme. You’re playing with the steering wheel the whole time and the course is insane.”
Some of the drivers were taken aback by the scenery which they were experiencing for the first time.
“It’s incredible to be contesting the first-ever Extreme E event in such an extraordinary setting,” Stéphane Sarrazin, driver for Veloce Racing, said.
“This is a great opportunity to be part of something shaping the future, because there’s no question for me that electric is the future for motorsport. All the drivers here have amazing experience, they’re all top drivers,” he added.
“Maybe I have a small advantage on the electric side from Formula E, so I need to ensure I make the most of that. My team-mate Jamie (Chadwick) is really fast and we spent some time together at my rally school in France where she improved a lot on the gravel. Her background is obviously in circuit racing, but she’s very open-minded and keen to learn and we have a very good relationship.”
Timmy Hansen, of Andretti United, called the experience a huge adventure and that, with the sustainability angle, all the drivers were taking part in something bigger than themselves.
“My team-mate Catie (Munnings) has been really good to work with,” said Hansen. “She’s still young and is taking a massive step up now to four wheel-drive, but she has a lot of talent and a great attitude. I’m also proud and very lucky to be representing two such massive motorsport names as Andretti and United. It’s an incredible team, and I will do everything I can not to let them down. We’ve all tried to prepare as well as we can and this is where it counts, which is very exciting. Okay, I haven’t participated in 15 Dakars or whatever it is like (Carlos) Sainz, but I will certainly do my best.”
Laia Sanz, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team driver, revealed that she has had a mixture of emotions ever since Carlos Sainz, a man she hugely admires and calls a great teacher, asked her to join his team.
“It won’t be easy up against all these champions and the other drivers all have much more experience than me on four wheels, which adds a bit of pressure,” she said. “Coming from bikes, I have very little prior experience behind a steering wheel and no experience of electric technology, but I’ve been testing with Carlos which helped me to feel a bit more confident. I do feel a little bit at home here from my Dakar experience on the sand, but I have two more wheels to get to grips with so I definitely need time. This is a huge learning curve for me, and I have to adapt very quickly.”
Former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg, founder and CEO of the Rosberg X Racing, said: “Since my F1 career ended, I’ve been focussed on sustainability and when Alejandro Agag called me and told me about Extreme E, for me it was the perfect match. To combine my passion for racing and sustainability in the same project is awesome. We’ve been out this week helping turtles and removing plastic from the beach, and of course that’s not big impact on its own but what we want to do is raise awareness of the problems the world is facing and show that we care.
The action gets underway tomorrow on Saturday morning (9 a.m. KSA) with four qualifying time trial sessions and continues on Sunday (April 4) with the semi-finals and final.