Did you know that cars can be both high-performance and climate-friendly? Electric vehicles are being increasingly used in motorsports such as rally driving, because they’re fast, efficient, and emit three times less CO2 than conventional combustion engines. We spoke to two rally drivers at the top of their game to find out why they believe electric vehicles will play a central role not only in the future of motor racing, but in transport in general.
‘The Electric Odyssey’
Swedish racing driver Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Australian rally champion Molly Taylor are both taking part in Extreme E, an off-road racing championship featuring fully-electric SUV vehicles. The races take place in locations affected by climate change – from the arid deserts of Saudi Arabia to the frozen tundra of Greenland. Not only does it raise awareness of the impact of climate change, but it also proves that electric vehicles can withstand the extreme pressure of rallying.
“It’s very inspiring to be at the cutting edge of motorsport and see how we can make it sustainable,” says Taylor, the first and only female driver to win the Australian Rally Championship. “You don’t have to compromise on excitement and performance – this is how things are going to evolve in the future.”
For Åhlin-Kottulinsky, whose grandfather won the Paris to Dakar Rally in 1980, Extreme E offers an opportunity to demonstrate the value of electric vehicles and inspire fans to take climate action: “A lot of people say that what they do for the climate doesn’t matter. But if you can engage fans like you do with Formula One, many will start taking small steps for the planet and this will have a huge impact.”
Racing towards an electric future
How does driving an electric vehicle compare with racing in a traditional car? “It’s like driving a rocket,” says Åhlin-Kottulinsky. “As soon as you power on, it smashes you to the back of the seat – it’s so much fun.”
“We don’t change gears,” explains Taylor. “It’s a bit more like a PlayStation in that way! It’s also a lot quieter – you don’t have the normal audible cues, such as engine revs and gear changes.” But all in all, it’s not that much different. “There are a few sensory differences, but it’s still quite similar in terms of driving the car,” she says. “I was quite surprised that it wasn’t really that much of an adjustment.”
Extreme E is also pushing the batteries used in electric vehicles to their absolute limit. Batteries are optimised during the race to contend with the environment the cars are racing in – withstanding sand, snow, water, mud, extreme temperatures, humidity, shock and vibrations. They are both powerful enough to propel the cars at high speeds and robust enough to survive the challenges.
A changing landscape
While racing an electric vehicle might be fun, there is a serious underlying point. In Europe, passenger cars are responsible for 12% of CO2 emissions. These emissions contribute to global warming, which is having a devastating effect on ecosystems around the world.
“In Greenland, the Extreme E team visited a glacier which was mostly white, but some parts were black. We took samples for analysis and are awaiting the results, but it’s very likely that the black was caused by smoke from the huge forest fires in the Northern hemisphere. It really hits you and I think it’s important for us drivers to spread these messages,” says Åhlin-Kottulinsky.
“You hear about the rate of melting ice, but to actually see it – and see the massive waterfalls – it’s quite eye-opening,” adds Taylor. “Extreme E is highlighting the issues we face, and it’s doing it in a positive way. It’s all about what we can do.”
Accelerating climate action
Whether it’s by racing an electric vehicle or by making small, climate-friendly changes to their routine, both racers are taking action.
Taylor has committed to two pledges proposed by our partner, Count Us In – to eat seasonally and switch energy provider to a greener alternative. Åhlin-Kottulinsky, meanwhile, uses an electric bike as much as possible and limits fuel consumption when driving her regular car. “Look ahead, and if you see a roundabout coming up, lift off the acceleration early,” she advises. “Do the same going downhill or before a lower speed limit. It’s also important to check you have the right tyre pressure.”
So why not join Taylor and Åhlin-Kottulinsky in embracing an electric vehicle? You can even make a Climate Pact pledge to drive electric and help slash both air and noise pollution in your local area. Naturally, electric cars are just one of a range of sustainable mobility choices – from walking and cycling more to flying less – and if we all change our routine just a bit, we can achieve a great impact on the future of the planet.
- 29 November 2021