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Payne: Hummer time -- EV Super Truck will race in Extreme E race series

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The GMC Hummer EV is going racing.

The Hummer brand, that is. GMC announced that it will sponsor one of 10 teams in the inaugural, 2021 Extreme E season. The international series is an FIA-sanctioned, off-road electric racing competition meant to bring attention to what Extreme E says is a planetary climate crisis.

GMC will sponsor Chip Ganassi Racing's first EV racing venture in the inaugural Extreme E season in 2021. GMC's Hummer EV, the world’s first all-electric supertruck, inspired the unique grille, graphics, and bodywork on the 550-horsepower electric spec racer.

The 10 teams will all race a similar, battery-powered, 550-horsepower spec racer called the Odyssey 21, its battery developed by Williams Advanced Engineering, an offshoot of the Williams Formula 1 team. The Hummer team will be managed by Chip Ganassi Racing of IndyCar and IMSA racing fame — and its entry features unique grille, graphics, and bodywork inspired by the Hummer super truck. The EV racer will not share components with the 2022 Hummer EV that goes into production later this year.

“We feel very proud to welcome GMC and its iconic Hummer EV to the Extreme E family,” said Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E. “Not only will Extreme E be a thrilling motorsport, it will also showcase the performance and benefits of electric vehicles.”

The Extreme E series comes as major corporations embrace politically-charged causes including climate change, racial justice, and gender equity.

The series will take place in five remote regions of the world —  desert, ocean front, Arctic, rainforest, and glacier — to bring attention to “the impact of climate change and human activity on some of the world’s most remote locations, while promoting sustainability and the adoption of EVs.”

To underscore the point of its strategic intent, General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra said Thursday the automaker would cease producing gas and diesel engines by 2040 as part of its bid to become "carbon neutral." GM says its future is all electric, and the $80,000 Hummer EV — the first vehicle based on GM’s Ultium battery platform — is a key part of that strategy.

Extreme E race teams must have one male and one female driver — each required to perform the same driver and co-driver duties — in order “to promote gender equality and a level playing field.”

The series is supported by the RMS St. Helena, a former English Royal mail ship that will serve as a "floating paddock" — ferrying the vehicles from location to location by sea instead of air transport in order to reduce Extreme E’s carbon footprint.

Extreme E debuts as the FIA’s other electric race series, Formula E, struggles.

Both Audi and BMW have pulled out of the series — billed as “the future of motorsport” — as manufacturers have looked to more relevant forms of racing. The open-wheel series' relatively low performance compared to Formula 1 and IndyCar has been dissed by drivers. Ex-IndyCar champ Jacques Villeneuve, for example, told The Drive Formula E was “perhaps the most boring” series he had ever competed in.

Given its emphasis on bringing quiet, “zero-emission” racing to urban areas like Brooklyn, New York, Formula E has been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Travel has also been difficult as the globe-hopping series faced national quarantines. At present only one race, Saudi Arabia, has been confirmed for 2021.

Extreme E expects few issues with quarantines or urban areas given its remote locations in Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Greenland, Brazil, and Argentina. No fans will be present, and the series will be broadcast via TV. The off-road rally format requires that each EV competitor must complete two laps of the course.

The series has recruited a rainbow of drivers from across the racing spectrum including ex-Formula 1 ace Jensen Button, Australian Rally Champion Molly Taylor, and IMSA sportscar star Katherine Legge. Off-road racers Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price will pilot the Hummer EV entry.

The series fits the “super truck” ambitions GMC Hummer has for electric vehicles. The Odyssey 21, for example, will launch from 0-62 mph in 4.5 seconds — nearly as quick as the 3.0 second blitz promised by the tri-motor production Hummer.

“I can’t think of a better fit than showcasing the look of GMC’s Hummer EV in Extreme E with Chip Ganassi Racing,” said Jim Campbell, GM’s US vice president for motorsports. “Both Hummer EV and the Extreme E series are designed to be revolutionary — to challenge perceptions of electric vehicles and to showcase their true capability.”

Season 1, 2021 Extreme E calendar:

Desert X Prix: AlUla, Saudi Arabia: April 3-4

Ocean X Prix: Lac Rose, Senegal: May 29-30

Arctic X Prix: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland: Aug. 28-29

Amazon X Prix: Para, Brazil: Oct. 23-24

Glacier X Prix: Patagonia, Argentina: Dec. 11-12

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.