Australia will stake its claim amongst a top-flight crew of motorsport’s best drivers and teams in a radical new electric-powered offroad series, with former Australian rally champion Molly Taylor named as part of the driver program for 2021.
Dubbed the Extreme E series, drivers and teams will tackle short-course off-road racing in countries that have never hosted motorsport events, while driving a radical off-road buggy devised by the creators of the Formula E racing series.
Team owners include seven-time F1 champion world champion Lewis Hamilton, as well as world-class motorsport outfits like Ganassi Racing and Andretti United.
What’s more, Extreme E has tipped the participation model upside down, with each crew set to comprise of one male and one female competitor.
Taylor will join Rosberg Xtreme Racing for the 2021 season, with former Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg as her new boss.
And Rosberg revealed on social media that he reached out to Taylor through her website's email address.
"I thought someone was playing a joke," admitted Taylor. "But then he called me, we were on Facetime, and it went from there."
Rosberg also revealed that negotiations with Taylor were protracted. "[She] played quite hard to get, and it took a lot of late-nighters," he said on Taylor's social media. "I'm glad [she] chose our team in the end."
Without a full-time drive for 2020 since the departure of her former team Subaru from national competition, Taylor – who has junior WRC formulae on her resume, as well as circuit racing experience in Australia’s TCR series – says she’s raring to compete in this unique discipline.
“Nothing like this has never been done before,” she says. “It represents a huge challenge and adventure, which really excites me.”
She also believes in the mantra of the series to present racing in a new and novel way, and in its broad message about the importance of confronting climate change.
“Our future, and generations to come, depend on us tackling this issue successfully,” says Taylor.
"To welcome a driver of Molly's talent is extremely exciting for RXR," said Rosberg in a statement. "Her experience and success in off-road racing speaks for itself.
"However, Molly's determination to be proactive in addressing climate change, and support our mission to promote and implement equality are also key factors in Molly joining the team."
Taylor will partner Johan Kristoffersson, a World Rallycross driver with a formidable pedigree in the short, sharp and roughhouse world of rallycross.
"In Molly and Johan, I believe we have one of the most competitive driver line-ups on the grid both inside and outside of the car, and I can’t wait to see what they can do together with the rest of the team,” said Rosberg.
The Extreme E car, known as the Odyssey 21, will be used by all crews, and has been developed from Formula E technology. The chassis is built by Spark, the same firm who supplies Formula E cars to the series.
The tubular frame, suspension system, braking and steering system, and crash structure are all fixed, but teams are able to develop their own powertrain and tweak select areas of the bodywork.
Some of the world’s most formidable racing outfits, including Andretti Autosport, Abt, Ganassi Racing and HWA, have already come on board.
In fact, one team, Veloce Racing, has secured the services of one of motorsport's most successful racing car designers, Adrian Newey.
Each car will be restricted to a peak power output of 400kW, which should fire the 1650kg off-roader from 0-100km/h in around 4.5 seconds, and up gradients of up to 130 percent.
“From what I have seen of the Odyssey 21 in action, it also looks like a whole lot of fun to drive!” says Taylor.
The series will start in Saudi Arabia before moving to places like Nepal, Greenland and Brazil.
“It’s going to be a rollercoaster for all of us as well as the fans,” says Taylor, who will join other female racing aces including former Supercars star Simona de Silvestro, Continental Tyres’ Extreme E development driver and touring car racer Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, W Series champion Jamie Chadwick and sportscar racer Katherine Legge.
“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.”
Taylor, who mixed tarmac racing with rallying last year, understands what she’s letting herself in for.
“There will no doubt be a very steep learning curve ahead,” she admits.
“I think my experience as a rally driver has given me the car control and ability to adapt to changing environments, but the specificity of Extreme E – new surfaces and the race formats – will be elements to learn and work on.
“Driving an SUV will be something new for me, too, as well as a number of the conditions in which we will drive. I’ve competed a lot on gravel, but sand and ice will be a new challenge. The format will also be completely different, especially sharing the co-driver role!”
The series kicks off in Saudi Arabia in March next year.