Ken Block switches petrol power for electric with Extreme E rally raid run ahead of Dakar

Pure-electric racer put through its paces

THE NEW Extreme E series’ purpose-built electric rally raid car has endured its toughest test yet: the fearsome Dakar Rally.

While Extreme E’s 536bhp Odyssey 21 hasn’t endured all 4,300+ miles of the 2020 Dakar Rally (which, despite its name, is not held in Africa these days, but Saudi Arabia), the in-development off-road racer was invited to participate in the event’s concluding, 12.4 mile stage near the Saudi capital city Riyadh.

The zero emission Odyssey also wasn’t alone in getting its first taste of desert racing during the shakedown: piloting the Extreme E was rally driver, YouTube gymkhana star and professional “Hoonigan” Ken Block, who admitted he had never driven an electric car prior to getting behind the wheel of the Extreme E machine.

Block explained: “My whole career’s been spent driving combustion-engined cars with turbochargers – the type of driving there with left-foot braking and the spool of the turbo to try and get drive out of corners is entirely different.

“Here, you can be more progressive with the throttle and wait a little longer because the torque is there the second you get on the throttle – the thing just wants to leap forward. I’m having to tone down my style a little as the car reacts so quickly and the power delivery is so fast.”

Though it’s unclear if Block will pilot the Extreme E racer again in the near future, the Odyssey 21 is set to continue being pushed to its limits in the coming years. Testing work on the car is well underway, with the six-time World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier having a hands-on role in fine-tuning the cross country racer, and a full grid of Odyssey 21’s is set to line-up for the very first Extreme E race that’s due to commence in January 2021.

The 500hp, 1,650kg car’s desert exploits won’t end once the development work wraps up. The first round of the inaugural Extreme E series next year kicks off around the iconic Lac Rose near Dakar in Senegal (which, incidentally, marked the finish point of many a Dakar Rally when the event took place in Africa), with the follow-up race in March seeing the Odyssey 21 return to the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia.

Other locales the Extreme E team will visit next year include the Kali Gandaki gorge near the Himalayas in Nepal, Greenland’s Russel Glacier ice sheet and a championship finale round deep in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

While the locations are incredibly exotic places to hold car races, Extreme E hasn’t selected these areas of the world purely for the scenic vistas they provide, as the series also wants to use the racing to raise awareness of the issues facing some of the planet’s most vulnerable environments.

Speaking to in July 2019, Extreme E founder Alejandro Agag said: “As soon as people see where we’re racing, they will go, ‘Oh, my God, really? That’s like that today?’ We are going to a place near the [North] Pole where you can see that the ice has disappeared … we want to showcase where the ice has gone. And we’ll go there we will try to do something about it.”

The awareness efforts go beyond plans to simply host an off-road race, too. “In the Amazon we will try to start a program to plant trees,” explained Agag. “In the Himalayas, we’re going to start a program to source solar power for the local communities. In the ocean areas that are polluted by plastic, we’re going to put in place and support programs to clean up those pieces of plastic.”

While there’s still a way to go before Extreme E is ready to begin racing, several drivers and teams have shown an interest in taking part in the sport. Four of the 12 team slots have already been filled, and the names of drivers who have applied to participate include the inaugural W Series champion Jamie Chadwick, the three-times Le Mans winner André Lotterer and the amputee British single-seater driver Billy Monger.

Extreme E: the off-road racing series on an eco trip

This is the 536bhp Extreme E electric off-road racer

Billy Monger joins the Extreme E electric off-road racing series