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Extreme E series will race electric cars in climate change-affected areas

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The new racing series is the Formula E founder’s strangest idea yet

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Image: Extreme E

All-electric racing series Formula E announced plans to sprout another EV series called Extreme E last week. The new green racing series will focus on electric cars that more closely resemble the ones we drive every day, though they’ll compete in intense conditions in locations around the globe that are being threatened by climate change. It’s easily Formula E founder Alejandro Agag’s wildest idea yet.

The new series’ first season will kick off in 2021. It will feature 12 teams, and the races will pit two drivers against each other in a head-to-head, “round robin” style tournament in each location. The cars will be custom built for the series on tech that’s similar to Formula E’s, but with the ability to make them look like a participating automaker’s own road cars. This allows them to directly promote those cars in a way they can’t with Formula E, which uses more traditional (but hyper-stylized) racecars.

Formula E has bucked a lot of expectations for a racing series beyond just using electric cars. Its races are short. They’re almost all run on city streets. Fans can use social media to give their favorite drivers a temporary boost during the race. This season, there’s even a new Mario Kart-style feature on each course that gives drivers a few minutes of increased power.

This new series, though, will be even more far out. Not only will the races be run in remote locations like the Himalayas, the Sahara desert, the Amazon rainforest, and even the Arctic, according to the series, they also won’t be televised live or be viewable to the public. Live broadcasts became a huge source of revenue for pretty much every major racing series starting around the 1980s, but in-person attendance has been the lifeblood of motorsports for far longer. Extreme E will instead produce a ten-part documentary series helmed by former actor and filmmaker Fisher Stevens (who is Formula E’s artistic director) that will air in late 2021.

Formula E is currently three races deep into its fifth season. Launched in 2014, the series is all about promoting green energy and climate change awareness, but is also about helping automakers advance electric vehicle technology. When the series was getting off the ground, Agag promoted it as a venue for the world’s leading manufacturers to develop and battle-test high-performance EV tech, which would then trickle down into the dozens of electric road cars they have planned for the coming years. (It’s a similar pitch to how Formula E’s progenitor, Formula One, is viewed as a testbed for bleeding edge automotive tech.)

While it’s hard to quantify the impact Formula E has had on raising awareness of climate change, the series has certainly executed on attracting automakers. Audi, BMW, Nissan, and Jaguar all field teams in the series, with Mercedes-Benz and Porsche planning to join next season. That’s leaps and bounds beyond the two to three manufacturers featured in other major racing series like NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula One.

The involvement of so many automakers has helped turn Agag’s wild idea of an all-electric racing series that takes place in major city centers into an unlikely success story. (So did money; Agag has pooled and poured hundreds of millions into the sport.) The Formula E founder and CEO also helped spearhead an undercard series where competitors race Jaguar I-Pace electric SUVs on those same street circuits, which launched this year. There’s also Roborace, a prototype autonomous racing series tied to Formula E that is still getting off the ground.

The odd format of Extreme E could have some advantages over these other endeavors. The overhead should be low without having to equip every race with a full live broadcast crew, or the infrastructure to hold tens of thousands of fans. But it’s also reportedly only drawing lukewarm interest from some of those same manufacturers who currently fill Formula E’s ranks. If it ever gets off the ground, Agag’s new racing series could help answer a new twist on that famous eternal question: if a race takes place in a forest, and no one can watch at home or in person, does it really matter who won?