Rallycross-style qualifying heats, semi-finals and an ‘X Prix’ final is the format, run over two days this weekend, on a ‘route’ rather than a circuit mapped out through a stunning desert landscape. The range limitation means each driver gets just one lap of the roughly five-mile route, before handing over to their team-mate. This writer is among the band of travellers in Saudi, but quarantine rules mean we’ve only just left our Jeddah hotel at this stage. A clip of video showing the course with a backdrop of red sand and rocks inspired thoughts of pod racing scenes in Star Wars – an analogy Extreme E itself has suggested. To be fair, it does seem to be accurate.
“It’s definitely a baptism of fire, like nothing I’ve done before,” says Chadwick. “But that’s part of the challenge and why I’m looking forward to it. It’s something I’m really relishing.”
But she’ll be at a disadvantage given that all her experience comes from racing on the black stuff, won’t she? “I really don’t think it’s a problem,” she says. “I had doubts, but after the first tests I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I would be able to get up to speed. That combined with the amount of training I’ve had from Veloce in the last few months means it’s a championship anyone from any avenue can come into.”
Parallel to the gender equality pillar is the environmental one. At first glance, racing at five remote venues around the world – desert in Saudi, rain forest in Brazil, glacier in Argentina, arctic in Greenland and what they call ‘Ocean’ in Senegal – sounds like possibly the most destructive form of sport ever created. But look closer. The venues have been chosen as areas of the world that have already been damaged by climate change and at the heart of Extreme E is a mission to not only spread the word, but also leave a genuine legacy of change in each region. The team of scientists travelling to each round are being pitched as just as central to this adventure as the drivers and teams who are competing in the races.
“We chose to organise our first ever race in Al-’Ula, with the aim to shed light on the threats presented by desertification,” says Agag. “The magnificent sand dunes and breathtaking views of Al-’Ula will represent the perfect backdrop to showcase the exploits of the innovative engineering masterpieces and the world class driving capabilities taking part in the competition.”