Legendary off-road racer and YouTube star Ken Block is preparing to take the wheel of the Extreme Es E-SUV to take part in the 2020 Dakar Grand Prix of Qiddiya finals on January 17, 2020.

FRANCK FIFE | AFP | Getty Images

The first season of a one-of-a-kind, brand new motorsport, Extreme E, kicks off live on Sky Sports this weekend.

Don’t you know what it’s about? Then read on – here are all the key questions Sky Sports host David Garrido answered.

So what exactly is this “Extreme E”?

Extreme E is an exciting new motorsport that drives fully electric SUVs off-road in five different locations in different, challenging terrain. These venues are located in some of the most remote places on earth and were chosen because these locations have been destroyed by the effects of climate change.

In addition to the sporting spectacle, Extreme E is intended to consciously highlight the destruction of the planet and inspire people, companies and locations to take positive steps in the area of ​​climate protection. The use of electric vehicles is part of the solution and offers teams and manufacturers the opportunity to test and showcase their latest automotive technology.

This sport comes from Alejandro Agag, a Spanish businessman who previously worked in Formula 1 with drivers like Romain Grosjean and who also founded Formula E, the all-electric single-seater series in the city center.

Who is involved

There are nine teams, each with one driver and one driver (gender equality is another pillar of Extreme E), including famous names from many different motor sports.

We have three Formula 1 world champions as team owners – Lewis Hamilton (X44), Nico Rosberg (Rosberg X Racing) and Jenson Button (JBXE), who is also a driver himself.

Also in the driver line-up are the former world rally champion Sébastien Loeb, who won nine titles in a row between 2004 and 2012, and the two-time winner Carlos Sainz, who has three rally crowns at the Dakar.

Rallycross is mainly represented by the Swedish trio Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen and Mattias Ekström, who together have won the last five world championship titles.

Jamie Chadwick is the current Williams F1 W-Series Champion and development driver, while Catie Munnings won the Ladies Trophy at the 2016 European Rally Championship. The other Briton involved is Oli Bennett, who won seven of them nine races in the 2017 British Rallycross Championship.

Behind the scenes there are further F1 connections with Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, as team principal of Andretti United, while Adrian Newey, Chief Technical Officer at Red Bull Racing, and ex-driver Jean-Eric Vergne are both with Veloce Racing.

How does the race work?

The entire action takes place over two days. On Saturday, all teams will complete two qualifying runs of the course, with the male and female riders doing one lap each, with a switch (known as “The Switch”) in between. Each of these runs will be approximately 18 kilometers and their combined times will make an order.

From this order, the fastest three teams will advance to the first semi-final on Sunday, the middle three teams will compete in another semi-final called the “Crazy Race”, and the slowest three teams will race in “The Shootout”. From this first semi-final onwards, the two best drivers reach the final, together with the winner of the Crazy Race. In the final, the winner of the race is simply crowned the XPrix winner.

Points are awarded by placement when you move from first (XPrix winner) to ninth (third finisher in ‘The Shootout’).

There are other unique features that spice up the race even further, such as ‘Hyperdrive’: if you take the longest jump on the first jump of each race, you get an extra speed boost and that team gets an additional championship point.

There will be no fans at the races (to keep the carbon footprint of the series to a minimum), but with the “Gridplay” function they can vote for their favorite driver to gain a head start. The team that receives the most votes can choose its starting position for the final. However, if it is not there, it can give its votes to another team of its choice. The team with the second highest votes will receive the second choice of starting place and so on.

As part of Extreme E’s sustainability offensive, each vote also includes a micropayment for the Master Charity / Legacy Program. (Later more.)

Where are the venues for the races?

Buckle up, this is going to be a pretty global expedition.

There are five different venues for the Extreme E inaugural season races, each dealing with different remote locations and related environmental issues. You start in AlUla in Saudi Arabia for the Desert XPrix at the beginning of April and drive to Lac Rose in Senegal for the Ocean XPrix at the end of May.

Then at the end of August there is a break of about three months before the third round in Greenland at the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq (Arctic XPrix), and after that we head south – to Santa Maria, Belterra in the Brazilian region of Pará for the Amazon XPrix in October and finally Tierra del Fuego in Argentina for the XPrix glacier in mid-December.

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What is the car you are using?

It’s called the Odyssey 21, and it’s essentially an oversized electric buggy. The vehicle is made by Spark Racing Technology, and there is also a Formula 1 stake here, with McLaren providing the drivetrain and Williams providing the electric battery, while Continental supplies the tires. It was unveiled to the public at the Goodwood Festival of Speed ​​in June 2019 and then had a neat run-out at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in January 2020, with Ken Block finishing third in the vehicle category on the final stage. Not a bad debut.

The fact that it is electric matters not only to the way it is driven, but most importantly to the weight. It’s an animal that weighs 1,650 kilograms and is 2.3 meters wide, and yet it speeds up to 60 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds. With 550 horsepower, the Odyssey 21 can reach a top speed of 120 mph and climb inclines of up to 130 percent.

Very minimal changes to the cars can be made by teams that are essentially limited to the bodywork, but of course each team has its own specific paint scheme. As an electric SUV, it is far quieter than its gasoline or diesel equivalent with a combustion engine, but it also has instant torque and very fast acceleration. The drivers I spoke to have also praised the handling, but one told me that one of the challenges is just getting the thing to stop … because of its weight.

How are the batteries in the cars charged? They also have a low-carbon solution for this: hydrogen fuel cells. This innovative idea by the British company AFC Energy uses water and sun to produce hydrogen. Not only will this process not cause greenhouse gas emissions, its only by-product will be water that will be used elsewhere on site.

Do you want a fun fact about the car? Of course you do. Let’s go: The energy stored in the Odyssey 21’s battery could charge 2,600 cell phones for a week.

How do the cars get to the venues?

Aha! This is another twist, and perhaps one of the series’ most important USPs.

You will be transported from venue to venue aboard the RMS St. Helena, a former Royal Mail passenger cargo ship that has undergone a major overhaul to make it Extreme E’s operations center.

But moving cars isn’t their only use. The St. Helena will not only serve as a “floating paddock”, but will also carry all other necessary equipment to the race venues, house a crew of 50 and laboratory for scientists to conduct valuable research on climate change and marine pollution and the legacy program the championship (more on that later) and contribute to its sustainability.

By choosing the seas above the sky, Extreme E’s logistical carbon footprint is reduced by two thirds compared to air freight travel. And there are other examples too. The ship’s drive units and generators are powered by low-sulfur diesel. St. Helena uses energy-saving LED lights, low-consumption bathroom fittings and even chairs made from recycled plastic bottles from the Mediterranean. Every little bit helps.

FALMOUTH, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 25: The St. Helena cargo ship docked in Falmouth, England on February 25, 2021.

Hugh R Hastings | Getty Images News | Getty Images

So what are these legacy programs that you mentioned?

In addition to environmental awareness and gender equality, Extreme E also aims to have a noticeable impact and keep the venues in better shape than they were. To this end, it will be involved in local activities so that it can make a significant contribution to the rehabilitation of these areas that have been hit by climate change in different ways.

In Saudi Arabia, for the Desert XPrix, they will support the Great Green Wall initiative, which aims to create a barrier of trees and protective landscapes across the Sahel-Saharan border, and the drivers will also visit a local turtle conservation project. In Senegal, the Legacy Program will help marine protected areas protect and revitalize aquatic diversity and carry out beachfront initiatives on Dakar Beach. The drivers will help plant mangroves – a million trees are to be planted on 60 hectares.

Same goes for Greenland, where Extreme E will support the territory’s plans to move entirely to 100% clean energy sources and partner with UNICEF Greenland to educate children about the effects of climate change. the Amazon, where they are working with existing conservation organizations to protect and replant an area with agroforestry and provide crops that can be harvested by locals; and finally the southern tip of Argentina, where the ice is receding at an alarming rate. If this continues, most, if not all, of the Cirque glaciers in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego will disappear over the next two decades, and both valley glaciers and Patagonian ice sheets will also be greatly reduced.

Okay, I’m in. Where can I see Extreme E?

All sessions of all race weekends will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Action and / or Sky Sports Mix and will begin on Saturday, April 3, at 7 a.m. CET with the first qualification from Saudi Arabia.

In addition, Sky will broadcast “Electric Odyssey,” a 20-part epic transglobal magazine show aimed at environmentally conscious audiences with a passion for adventure and helping to bridge the gaps between the five racing laps.

This unique Extreme E-journey is just beginning and is expected to be eight months ahead of us, both on and off the “track”.