When it comes to headline acts, Carlos Sainz in an electric off-roader is about as good as it gets.
The living legend of rallying, known as ‘El Matador’, is set to be announced as the superstar recruit for the ground-breakingly ambitious Extreme E all-electric off-road race series for its opening 2021 season.
Like signing Tom Cruise to star in a small independent movie, Sainz’s entry into the environmentally friendly carbon-neutral race series is a BIG deal for the fledgling category and could be made public in a matter of days.
Molly Taylor could also be playing a supporting role in a series where each team must have a female driver.
Most of the details of the Sainz deal have already been thrashed out and the final confirmation will come once he completes his personal program for next year.
But the man himself, once the most-famous Sainz until his son Carlos Jr signed to become a Ferrari F1 driver, is pretty keen to make it happen.
At 58, Sainz Snr remains disgracefully fit and motivated. The competitive gleam in his eye shows no signs of dullness and if there’s a challenge out there he’s still ready to tackle it with the enthusiasm of an eager youngster 40 years his junior.
For someone in the same age bracket, he is a most annoying example.
Sainz has already tested one of the unique battery-powered ODYSSEY 21 E-SUV buggies which will form the field for the new series and it left even a man who has driven nearly every damn thing with four wheels off the beaten track pretty impressed.
“It is a powerful car, and very quiet,” he said after his initial shakedown run.
“It (the Extreme E) is electric but it has almost 600hp so that is quite impressive.”
Before he gets Extreme E, Sainz-the-elder is more focused on winning a fourth Dakar Rally, the rally raid epic that he enjoys more than sitting in a comfy chair, drinking cerveza and watching sport on TV like most normal guys his age.
He is the big dog in the X-Raid Mini team, earning the kind of compensation consummate with a living legend, and a man has to have his priorities.
“It (Dakar) remains goal number one,” he admitted. “After that, well, we’ll see.”
The 2021 Dakar, again to be run in Saudi Arabia, will be run from January 3 to 15.
Ironically the Extreme E series will also start in Saudi Arabia in March, so he’d have a handy head start on understanding the local conditions, although the Extreme E series is run a little differently to an endurance event like the Dakar.
“[The championship] looks good, it’s from the world I’m in right now, close to the raids, and I think we have to start understanding the electric issue. It’s one more step,” Sainz admitted.
“It would be another challenge in my career and why not, I’m looking at it, of course I’m looking at it”.
There’s little that can be said about Carlos Sainz that hasn’t already been said.
A quick recap of his career achievements is all that is really required to see why, earlier this year, an international poll of the public and a select group of rally media, voted him the greatest WRC driver of all time.
Sainz contested 196 World Rally Championship events, winning 26 and standing on the podium in around half of them. He won the world title in 1990 and 1992, both with Toyota, but finished either second or third on another nine occasions.
And then, when he finished with the WRC, he set his sights on the legendary Dakar Rally, winning that three times, including 2020 in Saudi Arabia.
Of course Extreme E is different. Really different.
Extreme E is the brainchild of the founder of the Formula E single-seater series, wealthy Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag. Who is a good mate of Sainz.
“Alejandro was at the Dakar at the beginning of this year and we have a talk about this (new) series,” admitted Sainz.
“He tried very hard for me to give it a try,” he added.
Agag has a pretty reasonable track record of getting things done. Successfully.
Everyone said that Formula E wouldn’t survive but now it’s become a happy home for both retired and discarded Formula One drivers and is, rather strangely as far as I’m concerned, quite entertaining. It’s also drawn huge support from major carmakers – think Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, BMW and Nissan – keen to paint themselves as green and environmentally friendly.
Agag knows that, to be successful, a racing series has to entertain. Eyes are the prize in the sports business.
Extreme E will run races in some of the most environmentally-sensitive regions of the world including Senegal, Nepal, Greenland, Brazil and Tierra del Fuego.
So if you want to see the most sparsely-populated places in the world this is the series for you.
Just nine single car teams with two drivers will contest the opening 2021 season, and there are some pretty big names involved. A reasonable racing driver called Lewis Hamilton has an entry. Not to drive, just enter.
His former Silver Arrows team mate and 2016 F1 World Champ Nico Rosberg has entered, as have US-powerhouse race operators Michael Andretti and Chip Ganassi. And, in backdoor operations Mercedes and Audi, through their Formula E spearheads HWA and Abt Sportsline, have also thrown a line into the water.
An Extreme E race weekend consists of five rounds: two qualifying rounds on Saturday, then two semi-finals and the final on Sunday.
The qualifying rounds consist of two races of four cars each (8 cars compete in the race weekend), with points awarded based on finishing position. The four cars scoring the most points proceed to semi-final 1, the bottom four proceed to semi-final 2 (called “crazy race”). Semi-final rounds are one race each. The top three cars from SF1, and the top car from SF2, proceed to the final.
In each race the car must complete two laps of the course, with each team member driving one lap and co-driving the other lap. Teams must have one male and one female driver, who will perform the same driving and co-driving duties, promoting gender equality and a level playing field amongst competitors.
So, what makes it so environmentally friendly?
Well, for a start the cars and indeed the whole race weekend infrastructure will move from event to event aboard a one-time Royal Mail ship, the St Helena, which will serve as a “floating paddock” and headquarters for the series.
The ship will also generate all the fuel needed for the weekend out of, well, almost nothing.
“There’s not going to be any diesel generators or anything on site generating the energy to power the cars,” said Rosberg.
While Sainz is the headline act, Molly Taylor admits she is up for the challenge.
“Nothing like this has never been done before,” she said. “It represents a huge challenge and adventure, which really excites me.
“The broader message of tackling climate change in a proactive way is also incredibly important – our future, and generations to come, depend on us tackling this issue successfully.
“The variety of locations and conditions we will experience is going to make it a continual adventure; they’re all bucket list places that I have never been in a position to visit, so that will be special.”
Not to mention to thrill of racing Sainz the GOAT.