What does it take to compete in Extreme E?
As a twist on World Health Day, Extreme E asked some of its drivers to outline just what it takes physically and mentally to compete at their best in the most extreme form of off-road racing on the planet.
Extreme E: First up, just how physical are the Extreme E cars to drive? Lance Woolridge, Veloce Racing: "It certainly take some physical strength. We do have electrical power steering, so that is a big help. At times, though, when the going gets tough you can suffer extreme cramps in your hands and shoulders just to get the car around. That comes with the nature of Extreme E – it is hard paced and high intensity."
Timmy Hansen, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E: "I would agree on that power steering and the hardest time has been when I have not been able to use it. It can then be extremely heavy, but on a normal lap I think it is quite straightforward."
LW: "I come from a cross-country background as well. Your legs, core, back and shoulders endure the most stress. It definitely takes it out of you concentration-wise and on your body!"
TH: "When I am at home, I definitely try and train regularly each day to make sure I stay in good physical condition. Training makes everyone a better version of themselves so I try to do that as much as I can."
XE: If someone off the street were signed up to drive an Extreme E ODYSSEY 21 tomorrow, what aspect would be the most physically demanding for them? LW: "The toughest element would be your coordination. You’re accelerating with one foot, braking with the other and then steering with your hands. There is a lot happening. You need a strong core as it takes a lot of work to keep you stable. We’re like an octopus in the car – there’s so much going on!"
TH: "I think the neck also requires some attention, too. It is not because of the G-forces, but because of all the bumps we ride over. The core muscles as Lance says are also important to keep your legs in the right place – it can be surprising how much it takes out of you. You have to be strong and stable in the car out on track, so the core and upper body are key. Cardio training is also important!"
XE: Is there a type of terrain that is more taxing physically than others?
TH: "The more bumpy the terrain is, the harder it is out on the course I would say. For me, the race in Sardinia was the trickiest, primarily because of the bumps on the course. There were also a lot of corners so lots to remember behind the wheel – but I think that is something that takes it out of you more mentally. That was the main challenge in Sardinia."
LW: "I would say sand, so definitely the Desert X Prix earlier this year. It gets particularly tricky later on in the weekend when the sand gets chewed up. There are lots of ruts and plenty of braking required, especially with all the different tracks laid down from the cars. If you come across a different track it is really hard particularly when hitting it from the side. You get lots of force feedback throughout the lap, so it becomes challenging to catch and control the car."
XE: Which is more mentally exhausting – trying to nail the perfect qualifying lap or wheel-to-wheel battles with competitors?
LW: "I’d probably say qualifying. You need to build on everything you have worked on to get it perfect and, what’s more, the rest of the weekend hinges on it. The start of a race is definitely a high-pressure point, though – getting in front makes it easier, I guess! After that your instinct kicks in and you fly by the seat of your pants to get round the course."
TH: "I would say the opposite – wheel-to-wheel and starts! When you are alone on the track you know what’s coming up, and so you can prepare and be ready for everything. With a competitor on the side of you trying to get past, or when you try to do the same with them, it can be very unpredictable. You have to be extremely focused and aware of so many things – you are trying to drive the car really fast as well as try and plan out what your competitor is doing too. Then again, it is the best part! I enjoy that element the most out on track."
XE: How do you mentally prepare yourself for getting behind the wheel?
LW: "I like to be left alone beforehand and be in my own space. I need to get myself focused on the task ahead. I am not really someone who likes to go through the lap in my head – it's more about being focused on my objectives and what I need to do and crucially, believing in myself to do it. If you don’t, then no one will."
TH: "Knowing and memorizing the course is crucial in Extreme E. There are so many little details that we have to remember so that is key for us. After that, it is about putting everything in place – your own preparation, training and work with the team – and then staying calm on the start line."
LW: "Feeling calm and focused is key. Once you are in the right frame of mind, then as you get in the car you’re instantly feeling pumped going into the racing too."
TH: "You need to feel relaxed but I would also say to feel curious too, so that you are feeling awake and aware of what might come. It is important. Just as I get strapped into the car I hit my legs and arms to get the adrenaline flowing."
XE: What do you do to recuperate after an event?
TH: "I meditate quite a lot and definitely being with my family back home is the best way to help recover from an event. Being with my son who is four years old is the perfect way to let go of everything and relax."
LW: "As soon as the weekend is over there can be a bit of a feeling of deflation. It is more talked about these days – the ‘after race blues’. That’s for everyone – not just drivers, but mechanics and the wider team, too. There is such a build up before the race and then once it’s done it's like ‘ah, what next?’. More often than not I have that low after a race, but then you begin building up for the next one. Having time with my family is important for me to recuperate, then I focus on training and preparing for the next one."
XE:How important is your physical and mental wellbeing to compete at the highest level?
LW: "It is extremely key and can be detrimental if not in the right zone. It is very important to know what as a driver you need to get to that zone. I communicate to the team when I need to do x, y and z to get there. We are a team and we need to work together. If you’re struggling physically and mentally, you can be the worst working part of the car."
TH: "If something is not quite right, such as if you haven’t slept or eaten well to something more serious happening in your life, it can all get to you in terms of preparation. The same goes for physical preparation. The level in Extreme E is so high so you can’t leave anything to chance."
LW: "On the start line my heart rate is at 130/140bpm. That’s how in the zone, excited and adrenaline fueled you get. My heart rate out on track peaks at 180/185bpm. Often people have said ‘why do you need to be fit - you just sit and drive?’. It is very hard to explain – it is not just your physical health but being mentally ready and understanding what that excitement does to your body. Your body needs to process it and deal with it in the right way."
TH: "Being relaxed yet excited to race is hugely important. That is the best secret to performing well on the day. It can be easier said than done, though, so it is key to put everything into place to help perform at your best."