As Chip Ganassi Racing prepares for the upcoming all-electric off-road racing series Extreme E, they headed to the Nevada high desert for the initial shakedown of their new racecar: the Odyssey 21. It is an all-wheel-drive 400 KW (550 horsepower) all-electric monster, developed by Spark Racing Technology. We were invited out to see the car up close and even given an opportunity to ride along in it. This day marks a historic day for the organization as it keeps an eye on the future of all-electric motorsports and gender equality.
It is no secret that CGR drivers Sara Price and Kyle LeDuc are unfamiliar with this platform of electric racing as their racing background is in gas-powered Trophy Trucks and short course Pro 4 trucks. An all-electric off-road race car is going to be a new challenge for them to learn how to adapt to the platform. This challenge makes a shakedown such as this crucial to their success of the 2021 season.Despite having no experience in an electric vehicle, they are the only drivers in the series with experience in desert racing. While most have experience with Rally Racing or F1 this may be a huge advantage for them.
“We’ve all been in this scenario; that’s why we’re sitting here in right now (at the test), and I know how to drive in it, I know how to live in it.” Kyle LeDuc says, referring to his and Sara’s experience racing off-road. “I think that’s a huge key to success. Honestly, anybody can do this, but for it to be second nature, I think was very smart, and it’s a good combo”.
“We all come from so many different backgrounds (in motorsports), but we also have to learn how to develop that common lingo and bring our experience to something we are all learning, as well as growing with the car to figure out what’s going to work best for us as individuals driving together,” says Price.
It is uncertain what will be in store for the upcoming season besides where they are racing, such as environmentally impacted areas such as Greenland and Argentina. They have chosen to make the trek from Indiana to the Nevada High Desert for their first shakedown to replicate conditions of what would be most similar to the deserts of Saudi Arabia – their first race on March 20-21.
This will give the team an opportunity to create simulated race conditions as much as possible while going through the logistics of setting up the pit and taking the car out. They have set up a large tent that will act as their garage pit for the car, team, engineers, manager, and racers. It is almost like a portable garage. But most importantly, they were able to get behind the wheel and understand the handling characteristics of the car. Although during the shakedown, the car would only be at 50% power as required by the Extreme E organization. After this shakedown, they will only see the car once more in Spain for an official test of the car at 100% power.
Dave Berkenfield is the team manager for CGR, whose job is to lead the team to success, which is to win – a motto they live by. He acknowledges the obstacles at hand to keep and an eye on the future for the upcoming season.
“Racing motorsports is changing. We’re seeing that on a daily basis. We are banking on that. This (Extreme E) is part of that change. Chip (Ganassi) and the team is looking for that disruptive technology. Looking for innovation and looking for opportunities to win, and we see that with this series, and we see that with Sara and Kyle.” Dave says.
The shakedown consisted of a short course they marked off the day before of rough desert terrain. This was just a short distance from where the base camp and pit were located. Since both Sara and Kyle will be sharing driver duties, they practiced the driver changes as often as possible. The team set up a few cones to mimic a pit and ran circuits up and down the course. Even at half power, the Odyssey 21 looked and sounded impressive, ripping up and down the desert.
It was a unique experience hearing only the soft whine of the motors and rocks hitting the bottom of the car; a moment of stillness comes upon the team as the car takes off. It sure is different than anything Kyle or Sara have driven. It will take some time to learn and adapt to the unique racing. But despite only utilizing half power, it certainly looks promising. While it certainly isn’t a Trophy truck in terms of power or suspension handling, the comparison wouldn’t be fair. If you had to compare it to a desert race car, a fair comparison would be of Class 5 Unlimited Bug having limited suspension travel at just around 15″, but then it is more rally car than anything. Though, the car was a blast to ride in, and can’t wait to see how it handles at full power. They even practiced jumping it off a sand dune.
Their official test will begin later this month in Spain, where they will be able to drive the Odyssey 21 at full power and see it’s full potential. The car is new to everyone and all the teams; each is limited to the amount of testing they are allowed to do, making it an even leveling field for everyone.
This may affect the future of motorsports as we see the adaption of electric vehicles in our daily lives; it was only a matter of time until we saw the crossover into racing. The future is here, and Chip Ganassi Racing is at the forefront of it and will do everything possible to achieve their goal- win. The race is only months away, and by the looks of which, they are doing all their homework possible, so come race day, they show up and are ready.
We will be doing a separate feature on the engineering marvel of the Odyssey 21 developed by Spark Racing Technology. Stay on the lookout for that.