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Why has Cupra entered Extreme E?

TG talks to Cupra boss Wayne Griffiths about all-electric off-road racing

Extreme E, the all-electric off-road racing series, is due to begin next year (COVID allowing, naturally). Five races are planned, all in remote locations already damaged by the effects of climate change, and eight teams are confirmed. One such team is Cupra, which has partnered up with ABT to compete in at least the first couple of seasons. Wayne Griffiths (far right) is Cupra’s boss.

“Cupra is still a really young brand – we’re two years old,” he tells us. “We’re still a new player, a new brand that’s not that well known, so we need platforms that give us big brand awareness as fast as possible. That was one of the reasons we decided to cooperate with FC Barcelona”. And one of the reasons it’s committing to Extreme E.

Griffiths explains there are three main reasons Cupra is getting into Extreme E, beyond brand awareness. First is that Cupra stands for “the electrification of performance” – this year sees the launch of the plug-in hybrid Cupra Formentor and Cupra Leon, and next year we’re getting the el Born EV hot hatch. Next, says Griffiths, is because Extreme E is “something new and relevant for the next generation”.

“If we were just to take a classic motorsport form and electrify it, for young people it would still not be relevant. People don’t go to the races anymore. So it was to find a new format that was more relevant for the next generation, more entertaining.

“Motorsport can’t just be something that the spectators enjoy, but is entertaining for a wider audience. It can be linked to gamification as well, I think that’s really important for the next generation. Gamification and being part of it.” (Gamification means to add interactive elements to the sport, like Formula E’s ‘Fanboost’, where drivers with the most votes get extra bursts of power.)

Lastly – it’s about highlighting environmental issues. “The whole Extreme E team is committed to highlighting the issues around the environment by the places they go, and that was something I thought was really attractive and something for us to get involved in,” says Griffiths.

From the outset all teams will use mechanically identical (they can fiddle with the bodywork) Odyssey 21 electric SUVs making around 550bhp. But further down the line teams will be allowed to adapt their vehicles.

“The first year the cars are all the same in Extreme E – manufacturers’ involvement in terms of engineering is limited – but in the future we can get more involved. So we can learn, but also bring our stuff in and perhaps bring it back to the series cars,” says Griffiths.

“ABT did some performance improved versions of our combustion cars, I could also imagine we’d be looking to work together with the el-Born.”

As for the Odyssey 21? “I think the thing looks great. I think it would be a lot of fun if you could have a street version of that, I don’t think anyone else has got that at the moment!”

A road-legal, all-electric Cupra buggy? We can but dream…

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