Top talent take to the track in intensive Extreme E test

© Bastien Baudin

Extreme E, the new electric off-road racing series, has completed its most intensive week of car testing yet, with a host of high-profile drivers who were left waxing lyrical about the capabilities of the ODYSSEY 21 E-SUV.  

The six day test took place at Château de Lastours, in the South of France, on a track renowned for pushing vehicles to their limit with its challenging off-road course. It proved a crucial opportunity for Spark Racing Technology, manufacturer of the electric SUV, to get feedback from top drivers and continue development on the championship’s vehicle.

Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Extreme E, said: “This week has been crucial for Extreme E. Every mile on the test track provides critical learning opportunities and in this case we decided to go all out and invite some of the biggest and most respected names in the sport to come and put the ODYSSEY 21 through its paces and give us their honest feedback.

“The fact they have all had such positive reactions has provided a huge confidence boost to the series. My congratulations and gratitude to the Spark Racing Technology team for their hard work in the face of our most intensive testing yet. I can safely say it’s been a huge success.”

Theophile Gouzin, Technical Director at Spark Racing Technology, said: “It’s been a really strong week here at Château de Lastours, with lots of track time and lots of different styles of drivers taking it out. We’ve seen a world of progress since we were here a year ago testing the car for the first time. Of course, there are still learnings and adaptions to be made and that’s what the testing is all about so this week has been especially useful as we near the end of our development.

“The feedback from the drivers has been really useful. A great detail about this car is that it is adaptable and we’ve been able to make little tweaks here and there to suit different driver styles, which proves teams can tune this vehicle and see immediate results. A great sign for the competitive ability in this one design championship.”

The test was also a very valuable learning and development week for Extreme E’s partners, including Continental tyres which proved its off-roading prowess on the rough terrain at full power without issue, and Williams Advanced Engineering was also on-site all week, testing its battery and gathering performance data.

First to take to the wheel was Patrik Sandell – a former Junior World Rally Champion and multiple rallycross race-winner in GRC. The Swede was followed by the newly-confirmed Andretti United team pairing of FIA European Rally Championship Ladies Trophy winner Catie Munnings, and Timmy Hansen, the reigning FIA World Rallycross Champion.

Others to climb into the cockpit included Hansen’s World RX rivals Andreas Bakkerud and Oliver Bennett, two-time FIA Formula E Champion and former Formula One driver Jean-Éric Vergne and fellow competitor Jérôme d'Ambrosio, as well as rising single-seater stars Sophia Floersch and Billy Monger.

There were also a few major profile drivers who came and tested privately and therefore can’t be named. However, one of them, Formula One star Valtteri Bottas, who is also a rally enthusiast, later went on to share his experience on his social accounts.

Here is what some of the drivers had to say about the experience...

Patrik Sandell, member of Extreme E Drivers’ Programme:

“I had an amazing initial feeling driving my first electric car. It took me a few laps to adjust my driving, especially with the instant power from the electric engines. That was a little bit of a shock in the beginning as I had to be a bit careful hitting the gas pedal but after that it was just pure joy.

“I didn’t really know what to expect but the balance of the chassis and how everything works so good together, I was blown away. The suspension and the tyres are so massive, it was so, so much fun to drive.

“Extreme E is a perfect balance between all different types of sport already existing on dirt. It is a mix of rally, rallycross and off-road racing but it’s being done in a new modern way as the whole world moves towards electric cars. I think Extreme E combines everything the whole industry would like to achieve and think it has a very bright future.”   

Catie Munnings, Andretti United Extreme E driver:

“The car feels insane and I’m just picturing it on all the different surfaces in these amazing locations and having that sensation of racing, but also being out in nature and having that flow with the car that we are already starting to feel. I feel like the more I get to know the car, the more natural it becomes.

“This was also the first time I met my new team mate, Timmy Hansen. We’ve started working together already, we had very similar feedback on the car and the things we are saying, which is good because sometimes drivers can be on completely different pages but we are thinking in a similar way. Timmy has got loads of experience from the rallycross side so I’m really keen to learn from him. 

“I was initially attracted by the adventure and travel of Extreme E, driving electric and the gender split was the icing on the cake for me. It’s a privilege and will give more women the opportunity to experience motorsport. Of course, women can compete in motorsport at the minute but this is another level of equality and sets the right example for future generations at the grass roots of motorsports.”

Timmy Hansen, Andretti United Extreme E driver:

“This test track is a small motocross like circuit but a perfect place to get to know the car. Despite its size and weight, the car is agile and highly responsive. It drifts nicely and recovers quickly as you pull out of the corners as it sticks well to the track. Its power comes instantly when you need it and nothing when you don’t. The more I drive it, the more I like it.

“It was great to drive together with Catie today, I had some knowledge of the car already, but it was nice to sit next to Catie as she drove it for the first time. This is a brand new race car, in a brand new race series with a format that has never been done before, so it's all about being open to new ideas and today is the first day we started working together, but we have a long winter ahead! Exciting times!”

Andreas Bakkerud, member of Extreme E Drivers' Programme:

“I’ve been waiting to test this car for what feels like a very long time. The Sun was very low, dust was everywhere but I was smiling from ear to ear and I enjoyed it very much.  Extreme E is very different to any kind of motorsport I’m used to, it’s a very different driving style. It was really cool to see so many different buttons to play with.  

“The car felt natural and really easy to manoeuvre and it didn’t take me long to get the car moving faster and smoother. Pretty immediately there was a lot of instant torque and it’s all about getting the grip to the ground as you slide it round the corners.

“I’m a big rival of Mattias Ekstrom and Timmy Hansen and as soon as I heard they were joining, I knew I had to step in and prove my speed. My goal and my dream is to win everything. If I get the chance to come to Extreme E and do a full season, even if its next year or the next two or three years, I’m always there to win. With Extreme E, I like the mix of competition and the way it stands up for Planet Earth. It’s fair to say I’m excited, whether I’m driving or not, I’ll be watching.” 

Jérôme d'Ambrosio, Formula E and former Formula One racer:

“Getting to try the Extreme E car out today was a totally new experience for me. I drive electric already of course so am used to that instant power but this was the first time going off road and it requires a totally different driving style. It was a really fun experience though and I could feel big improvements already in the short time I had on the track. Great car, and was very pleased to be part of this testing week and check out its capabilities.”

Jean-Éric Vergne, Co-founder of Veloce Racing, two-time FIA Formula E Champion and former Formula One driver:

“I loved it! A very, very good experience. I was really pleased with the power, it’s totally impressive.  

“It is a totally different world to what I’m used to. I’ve never driven sideways before and here you have to slide so it’s something I’m discovering and I’m really enjoying it. For the first few laps, I had to almost re-learn the way I drive the car as it’s so different to the experience in a single seater. Rather humbling for me at first but I evaluated, took advice and saw progress really quickly which felt good. When I got up on the hill track it felt incredible and I didn’t want it to end.

“This series is going to be huge amounts of fun and I can’t wait to drive it again and see even more improvement. Whether or not I drive in the series myself is not decided. I want Veloce Racing to win of course so will pick the driver best suited to the job. What I do know though is we are building a serious team entry and we can’t wait for Season 1 to get started.” 

Sophia Floersch, FIA Formula 3 and Le Mans 24Hrs driver:

“Extreme E is a great new series and the car was something new to me. My first time driving off-road and the first time driving such a big SUV race car, but it was fun, and good. Something different compared to what I am normally used to. In off-roading you take the corners more sideways than straight and that’s totally different but a lot of fun.

“Extreme E is very new and for me it was interesting to be here this week to get my first impressions of the car and the set up. It was great to be part of it all.”

Billy Monger, member of Extreme E Drivers' Programme:

“Getting to drive the car was really cool! The whole experience was completely out of my comfort zone but I like a challenge and it was great fun. Having only done single seater stuff in Formula 3, to then drive a car that requires a completely different driving style, and the way you attack, was different for me. So, it was new experiences, and new challenges. 

“The adaptions for me came on the throttle, I had a hand throttle on the steering wheel on a big paddle which the guys at Spark created after I visited their factory earlier this year. 

“It’s a great opportunity to be involved in something like this. I think electromobility is definitely needed, there’s enough evidence out there to tell people electric is probably going to be the future, we've seen that in Formula E and how that’s grown and I think Extreme E in off-road is going to be another step in that direction. 

“Extreme E stands for a lot of the things I do so it’s definitely something I’m looking to explore. Anyone who knows Lewis Hamilton will be involved knows he'll want to win and set up a pretty damn good team, so I think any driver interested in doing the series is definitely going to be interested in having that seat. Of course, I would love that to be me but we will just have to wait and see.” 

Oliver Bennett, FIA World Rallycross Championship driver:

“It’s a really big car, the photos don’t quite do it justice, but it’s just a really cool machine to look at. The power and instant torque was so amazing, to squeeze the throttle on for the first time was amazing and I could tell as soon as I got on the track it was going to be wide open when you feel all that power. It rained just before I went out so I had a fairly wet surface, it was really slippy to start with but you have to be really aggressive and get on the gas early but it was great fun and really manageable. 

“Like any race car when you first get in you don’t want to push too hard, you’ve got to find your boundaries and see what happens. When we got to the rally stage the car really came into its own in the big puddles, big ruts and it was effortless over the bumps. A really, really cool experience. 

“I heard about Extreme E a year ago from being involved in rallycross and off-road racing. I’m always keeping my eye on what’s going on and saw the announcement of this electric car, which is something I’ve been really interested in as everything slowly moves to the world of EV and the impact on the climate. I saw it and thought it’s off-road, got crazy suspension, crazy jumps and dunes and thought that’s a bit of me, so I’ve been talking to the guys for the last 12 months now to see if I could get a little drive.

“I love racing cars but I think electric is the way forward and I’m involved personally with younger generations so I knew this was going to be a creative way to show electric cars aren’t boring in what they can do in terms of capabilities, if anything they’re more impressive than traditional cars.” 

The long awaited test week may be complete but there will be no rest for Spark Racing Technology now however as they head back to the workshop to complete the build of the eight race vehicles.

Teams are expected to take delivery of their cars later this month, ahead of the first race simulation in December as countdown continues to the inaugural Extreme E season, set to kick off in early 2021.