Extreme E is a fun series that is also very serious. On the one hand, Chip Ganassi dresses the series car like a reinvented GMC Hummer alien, and on the other, it’s a Lewis Hamilton-endorsed climate change documentary mission that also involves race cars. Some teams have been involved for more than a year, some, like that of Jenson Button, entered with barely time to fill their cash. But in the end, everyone is in the same position, which is to say that they are trying to predict a championship year like no other. Furthermore, said championship has never been held before, and it is now preparing to take place as the world is still in the grip of a full pandemic.
There has been a constant evolution since the announcement of Extreme E, but the gist, that the series would travel the world on a former Royal Mail postal ship, the “St. Helena”, has remained constant since its launch. Designed as a floating paddock to minimize land impact on places visited by Extreme E, the St. Helena has been redesigned to be as eco-friendly as possible – although not yet electric – and loaded with everything needed. he crew needs to leave for a whole year, including racing cars. There will be no return to the factory between tours, repairs must be carried out by the few authorized crew on site and in extreme environments and they cannot return for spares.
The reader met with Veloce Racing team director and rally legend Ian Davies to find out exactly how it works.
The challenge, as much as you can boil it down to anything, is trying to figure out exactly what you’ll need in eight months, for something you haven’t tried yet. Davies does not lack experience after more than 30 years of rallying, from Dakar to WRC to rallycross, but Extreme E has its peculiarities.
“Someone asked me the other day what was the biggest challenge and I think they expected me to say the car,” Davies explained during frantic last minute preparations for the load. of Helena. âBut actually the biggest challenge has been to create a new championship from a blank sheet of paper. For most other sports the previous one has already been created. For any form of rallycross, for example, if you want to start rallycross in the United States There have been rules and regulations for 30 or 40 years of the European Championship to be achieved. Ditto for rally cars, touring cars or any single seater. “
âThe concept of Extreme E is so new that as a group of people – it comes from investors, stakeholders, teams, from Extreme E themselves – we had to find it all from one sheet. of blank paper, and that’s the ship, how we’re going to live, how we’re going to work on the cars, how long the cars run, how we’re going to load them. Everything is brand new. So that remains the biggest challenge. We are not there yet because we are not in the first race, “added Davies.
At least with a lot of sets you can tinker with your car until race day, especially when you’re doing something brand new. In Extreme E, you can’t. They have just been loaded onto a boat and the crews, who only received them in December, had to wave to them and hope that the moisture packaging measures will hold until April. next.
Veloce was one of the first Extreme E teams, and perhaps the most surprising. Several of the other early entrants were established racing teams like the Audi Abt customer racing team, while Veloce comes from a background of simulation racing and internet content creation. An investment from two-time Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne got the ball rolling to a point where he decided to jump into real-world racing in the most nominative and literally extreme way possible.
Legendary F1 designer Adrian Newey coming on board at the race team’s launch was undeniably a profile boost, but in a series where the car is extremely cool but ultimately spec, the most important role goes to the preparation, which Davies likened to planning for war.
“It’s like military planning. It’s about predicting what you will need for each event and now predicting what we need in Argentina next December,” Davies said. âFor example, it’s not that different from what we would call a long distance rally. In the World Rally Championship, a lot of that series is shipped by sea. So Mexico, Argentina, New -Zeeland, Australia, Japan, as it was. So I think we have that kind of experience and planning to build on, but it’s, again, planning and prediction.
âYou probably have to overestimate what you’re going to need in the first season. And then obviously in the second season we’ll have a much better idea of ââhow the first season has gone for us. last year we started looking at the temperature in southern Argentina exactly the same week that we will be traveling this year. People think we are working on Saudi Arabia – but Saudi Arabia – to some extent , is almost finished and dusted off. “
The first Extreme E event takes place in the dunes of Al Ula, rightly so, where the racing scenes Star Wars: Episode 1 – The phantom menace were filmed. A little funny for a series that has been compared to podracers. But Veloce’s planning had to go all the way to Patagonia at the end of the year: âYou know you’re constantly working on events on the road and looking at some sort of planning and weather because it affects everything, even the weather. team clothing. . It’s crazy, it’s not just about the car. It’s about the team’s clothing and lights. “
Something anyone who has attempted to attend an international motorsport event recently, especially from the UK (Veloce is based in West London), will be keenly aware that getting there is only the half of the quicksand of logistics. Coming back is Davies’ job in April as well.
“And now we have to start worrying about quarantine and re-entry in the UK, quarantine in hotels if that comes into play. So, yeah, in general there are a lot of righteous things, but we have a lot of experience to shoot at. “
Not that the return is the biggest personnel issue, compared to the very limited number of people allowed to leave, to begin with. Extreme E will run over very remote and vulnerable landscapes and unlike most racing series there will be no VIPs, no spectators, no grandstands and almost no staff.
“I think what does not surprise me, but what is worth highlighting is that in order to reduce the carbon footprint, it is the limited number of staff that we are allowed to welcome who are authorized on site, âDavies explained. . “So our team, I think there are currently seven people including the two drivers, so five active people, two drivers and a team leader who are allowed to travel with the team.
“So out of the five that we have left on the staff, there is myself, which brings us down to four. So there are three mechanics, one engineer and myself. Now, okay, I’m a chassis engineer. which gives us a little leeway, gives us a second engineer when I can and I don’t hesitate to pick up a few keys if necessary. But everyone we take has to be multitasking. In a normal race you You’d have a subset guy, you’d have a transmission guy, and everyone would have their own department to manage. Here you have to be very careful who you pick and who you take. And each staff member is versatile. “
Even the Veloce drivers, W Series champion Jamie Chadwick and Le Mans winner and rally driver StÃ©phane Sarrazin, were trained to work on the car. “Everyone in the team, because we may have been trained to work on the car, so you have to have certification to work on the car and have taken a course because of the high voltage electricity and we even put the pilots on this course. “
“Because when they change [drivers in Extreme E share a single car, swapping between runs of a stage] in the area where they trade, we are entitled to a mechanic. But the driver leaving the car can also work on it to help the mechanic change the tire in the event of a puncture, so that person should be certified. So we have to think about getting everyone in the team certified. “
Even in the luxury of makeshift paddocks (Extreme E teams will be working in inflatable tents used by military and humanitarian organizations that are supposed to last the entire season), there isn’t much leeway. Considering how long teams pack their bags, St. Helena’s baggage allowance could make most budget airlines seem generous. “Everything must be deliverable in a three meter (9’10”) by two meter (6’7 “) by two meter (6’7”) pallet because that is all the size of what we have for it. ‘whole season. It’s all freight with us. So we have to talk about logistics, the best way to do it. Connect objects using magnets and wind them up, then wind them up and pinch them. And that’s just another part. Forget everything else. “
The St Helena left Liverpool in the UK at the end of February. Extreme E will take part in the race for the first time on April 3-4, when teams find out if they’ve packed things right. Only time will tell.
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