DUBAI: The latest international motorsports event to take place in Saudi Arabia is now just over two weeks away, with the FIA-backed Extreme E rally’s inaugural race due to be held in the desert terrain of AlUla on April 3-4.
The new electric vehicle competition will pit 10 teams and 20 drivers against each other on the sand dunes of AlUla over two days, with qualifying on Friday and the main Desert X Prix on Saturday.
It will be Extreme E’s first-ever outing after years in the planning and will feature leading drivers, including Jenson Button and Carlos Sainz, among a field of world-class male and female competitors.
The rally season’s major objective is to highlight the climate change challenges faced by ecosystems around the world, while showcasing the performance of all-electric SUVs in extreme conditions.
In AlUla, the tour will highlight the impact of desertification, before continuing on to the stunning backdrops of Senegal, Greenland, Brazil and Argentina to continue spreading the message while pushing drivers and their teams to their limits.
For Saudi Arabia, the hosting of Extreme E marks another motor racing milestone.
Having hosted desert rallies for more than half a century, the Kingdom welcomed its first FIA-backed street race with the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in 2019 — a race that has since been held over two weekends since, most recently just last month.
In 2020, the Kingdom became the first Middle Eastern nation to host the famous Dakar Rally — “the hardest race in the world” — with competitors snaking across hundreds of miles of desert dunes as they looped round the country from Jeddah over the space of two weeks.
Dakar Saudi returned in January this year, with an even sterner, but just as mesmerizing, route across the Kingdom.
And later this year, Formula One racing will finally come to the Kingdom with the maiden Saudi Arabian Grand Prix taking place in Jeddah.
It is through the tireless work of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcyle Federation (SAMF) that Extreme E will take to the desert next month. It was also through the Federation’s partnerships with Formula E and Rally Dakar that the Kingdom is now host to both the Diriyah E-Prix and Dakar Saudi for 10 years of events, as well as Formula One.
Led by chairman Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, SAMF illustrated to Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, the high levels of popularity of motorsports across Saudi Arabia. They also highlighted the ambitions of Saudi Vision 2030 and the Quality of Life program, as well as the Kingdom’s desire to implement green initiatives where possible.
“We feel the Kingdom is an ideal fit for Extreme E due to our forward thinking and original approach to the new Saudi Arabia we are aiming for under the goals of Vision 2030,” Prince Khalid said.
“Under Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to create a vibrant society in which all citizens can fulfil their dreams, hopes and ambitions to succeed in a thriving economy, and we see sport as a key component of that. It goes without saying that Saudis are recognized internationally for the passion and love we have for sport, and perhaps none more so than motorsport.
“We also see need for change and to do all we can to support the environment and our planet,” he added. “That’s at the core of Extreme E’s mission and it gives us enormous pride to be hosting their first ever race in the Kingdom this April. Together, Saudi Arabia’s partnership with Extreme E will bring incredible benefit to the Kingdom, Extreme E, wider motorsports and the care we give to our planet.”
Extreme E will be a monumental event in what is already a phenomenal year of motorsports in Saudi Arabia. Our goal is to inspire through motorsports and to be hosting Dakar Saudi, Formula E, Extreme E and F1 — as well as all our many, hugely loved Saudi-born events — in one year, and for many more years to come, is an incredible achievement and together open the exciting next chapter of motorsports in Saudi Arabia.”
Ten teams are signed up for Season 1 of Extreme E, including three owned by current and former Formula One World Champions, with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button founding X44, Rosberg X Racing and JBXE, respectively.
Joining those teams will be ABT CUPRA XE, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team, Andretti United, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team, Team TECHEETAH and Veloce Racing.
The Extreme E driver line-up brings together champions from a variety of motorsport disciplines spanning single-seaters to rallying, rallycross, Dakar and sportscar racing: Mattias Ekstrom and Claudia Hurtgen (ABT CUPRA XE); Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz (ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team); Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings (Andretti United); Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price (Chip Ganassi Racing); Oliver Bennett and Christine Giampaoli (Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team); Jenson Button (JBXE); Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor (Rosberg X Racing); Stephane Sarrazin and Jamie Chadwick (Veloce Racing); and Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez (X44).