Extreme E race series makes a surprise tilt towards hydrogen
Formula E's dirty little brother, Extreme E, only had its first race in 2021, but it's already attracted drivers of the caliber of Jensen Button, Sebastian Loeb, Carlos Sainz and Nasser Al-Attiyah. It's a single-make off-road race series, pitting all-electric Spark Odyssey cars against one another in a range of harsh remote environments, and it's an interesting experiment in gender equality as well – each team has to field both a male and a female driver, who share the driving equally, swapping between laps.
Now, continuing the spirit of zero-emissions racing, the Extreme E cars will be joined, or perhaps even replaced, by Extreme H cars powered by green hydrogen. The details remain under negotiation, but the timeline has been set for the beginning of the 2024 season.
Announcing the move before the first race of the 2022 season, Formula E chief Alejandro said, "Extreme E was designed to be a testbed for innovation and solutions for mobility. It has become increasingly clear to us that creating a hydrogen racing series is a natural evolution of our mission to showcase the possibilities of new technologies in the race to fight climate issues. Together with the current Extreme E Teams we will decide in the coming months the best way to integrate the hydrogen-powered cars into the racing weekend. Two separate categories, full transition to hydrogen or joint racing are all options on the table."
Little will change about the cars themselves – at least, to begin with. The chassis and electric powertrain will remain the same, and the batteries will be replaced by hydrogen tanks and fuel cells. Indeed, the Extreme E teams are already carrying green hydrogen and fuel cells around with them, as that's what they're using to charge up the cars between races.
The benefits for the race series are fairly evident; hydrogen won't restrict the length of races as much as batteries do now, and teams will be able to fill up much quicker than they can currently charge up. That means they'll get more race action to sell to broadcasters and sponsors.
We also can't help but wonder whether this might eventually result in a switch to less efficient, marginally dirtier hydrogen combustion engines at some point. We imagine top-level race engineers probably find electric motors a bit boring and sterile to work with, fast and efficient though they are, and there aren't many race fans out there that wouldn't welcome a bit of engine noise back in to replace the slot-car whine of the battery cars.
This would sit in line with a broader push we covered yesterday, with some automakers moving to position hydrogen combustion engines as a cleaner choice for rev-heads that love their roaring combustion motors and gearboxes.
JBXE team owner, F1 champ and one-time Extreme E driver Jensen Button said, "for Extreme E to be evolving into Extreme H is incredibly exciting and a brilliant step forward in such a short space of time for the series. To see racing of this calibre powered by hydrogen cells, which will allow for even more racing with less impact, is remarkable."
Source: Extreme E