AAs his engineers tinkered with the car parked in the tent directly behind him, former Formula One world champion Nico Rosberg looked at the mud-spattered paddock and said, “For all the sports in the world, this is the direction in. which we need to go into. “
Rosberg, now a full-fledged sustainability entrepreneur since hanging up his racing gloves, was back in competition, albeit this time as the founder and CEO of RXR racing. “It is the first motorsport ever built on a social cause. We are a global model for the sport.
His new role took him deep into Dorset in the middle of winter for the final race of the inaugural season of the innovative Extreme E Championship, an FIA sanctioned series for off-road electric SUVs.
This new racing concept is designed to shine the spotlight on the climate crisis by hosting races in affected remote parts of the world. After events in Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Greenland and Sardinia, the season should have ended in Patagonia but for pandemic reasons, it takes place at the Bovington military camp on the south coast of England. This race was named Jurassic X-Prix, certainly not a reference to dinosaurs, but rather a nod to the famous nearby coastline.
A few tents away from Rosberg’s was the car belonging to a very familiar foe and the only one that could stop him from winning this year’s title – the X44 team in purple livery, formed by Sir Lewis Hamilton. “Is that cool?” Said the German. “Not only are we fighting for a championship, but we are also participating for a good cause. The more intense our fight, the more impact we will have, the more we will be able to raise awareness, it’s incredible.
All weekend, much like the rest of the season, the two teams dominated, clashing in the final round of the season (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). In the end, the X44 car was by far the strongest on this course, driven by Spain’s Cristina Gutiérrez and seven-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb of France. That put them tied on points with RXR, who finished fourth here, but Rosberg’s side took the title with more race wins. Agony for the Hamilton team (again).
The paddock was filled with celebrities from motorsport. Jenson Button was there, leading his JBXE team, while former world rally champions Carlos Sainz and Loeb both drove. Jutta Kleinschmidt, the first female Dakar Rally winner, was also present, as was Jamie Chadwick, the first all-female W Series winner in 2019, who once again claimed victory this year.
Indeed, gender equality also plays a major role in the philosophy of Extreme E. Unique in the world of motorsport, each team must field a male driver and a female driver, with equal roles for both. Catie Munnings, the 24-year-old British driver for the Andretti United squad, only made her world rally championship debut last year, but this year she’s raced against heroes like Loeb. She is the unofficial face of Extreme E and even represented them at the recent Cop26 in Glasgow.
Button is fully behind the mixed races of Extreme E. “Motorsport has been a sport dominated by men for decades,” he said. “But it raises a lot of awareness among female drivers, which is great. It means we’re going to see more girls getting interested at a young age and it’s going to filter out. “
Each of the nine teams has a car, a fully electric SUV named the Odyssey 21. These futuristic machines are almost identical, the only modifications the teams are allowed to make are to the bodywork. The batteries were developed by Williams Advanced Engineering, designed to withstand extreme temperatures, conditions and terrains. They can produce a maximum power of 470 kW (equivalent to about 630 hp) sufficient to throw the 1,780 kg SUV from 0 to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds with gradients of up to 130%.
To power the batteries, Extreme E uses pioneering hydrogen fuel cell technology that will allow its racing fleet to be recharged using zero-emission energy. This innovative off-grid solution from AFC Energy uses water and sunlight to produce hydrogen. Not only does this process emit no greenhouse gas emissions, but its only by-product is water, which is used elsewhere on the site.
The race of this X-Prix took place over three days, instead of two for the others, due to the lack of daylight, with two rounds of qualifying the first two days followed by semi-finals and then a five-car final on Sunday. There was also a “mad race” started in the mix, a sort of draft, in which the slowest qualifiers compete for the last place in the final. Each race consists of three laps of the 3.8 km circuit: two laps by a driver then a quick change in a designated “switching zone” before one lap by the other.
It’s fast, furious and futuristic. The defining feature of the course is the 5.4 meter jump “on the edge of the knife”, which has a slope of 23 degrees, which makes the cars take off. The sound of the cars is a mixture of electric screeching, much like the squealing of a pig, and the clicking of stones being sent flying.
One of the key pieces of Extreme E’s global adventure is docking in Poole Harbor for the duration of this tour. Instead of using high carbon air freight to transport all Championship gear around the world, organizers have transformed the former Royal Mail ship, the St Helena, which had served in the South Atlantic for 26 years . She’s not yet fully electric, as she proclaims bold on the side of her hull, instead running on low-sulfur marine diesel, known as “champagne” in the industry.
On each X-Prix site this season, the Extreme E scientific committee has selected a heritage project, a chance to highlight and provide help on a local environmental problem. In 2022, the National Trust hopes to reintroduce beavers for the first time in 400 years to the Little Sea area near Studland, in the wetlands at the heart of its dune system. Wetlands are particularly vulnerable areas when it comes to climate change and biodiversity, but beavers act as nature’s water engineers.
The last race of this weekend was without spectators, just a small group of sponsors witnessing the action. The organizers decided to keep the fans away and reduce the carbon footprint of their participation.
As soon as the race was over in Dorset, the usual motor racing rituals were to be performed. Then, with all the champagne sprinkled in and the post-race talks over, Rosberg and his two ecstatic riders jumped into the quagmire together and rode in delight.