Chip Ganassi Racing goes to the Extreme E in new electric SUV series

Extreme E

It was during a visit to England last August that Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull became convinced his team needed to join the Extreme E Series.

Inside an ultramodern and LEED-certified office of 130 people (30 recently added just to work on the new circuit), Hull was given a virtual tour of Extreme E’s blueprint to race around the world across vastly different topography (deserts, rainforests, mountains, glacial ice sheets) to highlight areas affected by climate change.

Hull had yet to see a track in person for the new series of electric SUVs that will debut in 2021.

But he thought he’d seen racing’s future.

“These guys have their shit together,” Hull told “It’s unlike any other sanctioning body I’ve ever gone into. Just the culture in the office is amazing. The average age might be 30 — maybe. But you walk in, and it’s people who have their heads up, not down. They have one very clear mission statement that they’re onto, and it represents that generation of people very clearly and what they think is important, and I was really impressed with that

“This group represents where racing is going next.”

It’s where Chip Ganassi Racing will be heading next, too, after Hull convinced its namesake of Extreme E’s merits, which extend beyond just being socially conscious.

No one would characterize Chip Ganassi as a tree-hugging environmentalist (though the no-nonsense Pittsburgh native is a voracious consumer of the news who was attuned to climate change and reducing the globe’s carbon footprint during meetings with Extreme E). But the longtime car owner in myriad series has been forward-thinking about re-emphasizing relevance for motorsports.

Dating back to a 2010 induction speech to the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Detroit, Ganassi has been outspoken about racing’s need to appeal to teenagers who are less interested in getting driver’s licenses. Instead of chasing after the cutting edge, Ganassi believes racing should be leading as it did when the Indianapolis 500 was an automotive test bed in the 1960s (his investment in developing the DeltaWing project would be another example).

In a YouTube conversation with Alejandro Agag, who founded the Formula E Series before starting Extreme E as its CEO, Ganassi said he was attracted by the series’ commitment to innovation (which his team uses as a core principle along with performance, integrity and partnership).

“Innovation takes a lot of forms, and in motorsports, it often follows what’s happening in the global automotive industry,” said Ganassi, who also explored racing in Formula E. “We need to recognize that and stay relevant in the industry and the sport but also in social landscapes. That’s so interesting about this formula. Whether we go to the desert, the rainforest or the arctic, these different ideas are all right in line with innovation and where the global automotive industry is headed. I want to be part of it.”

There naturally is a large social and environmentally conscious component to Extreme E that will appeal to youth, which Hull said was important.

“Certainly you always have individual agendas no matter where you go, but this group had a very, very clear agenda, and the people managing the program are on the same wavelength,” Hull said. “I came back and told Chip about all that, and we talked about it for a little while, and Chip did a little of his own research and decided it was a good direction.”

Extreme E will be both a departure and a return for Chip Ganassi Racing, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020. The team’s diversified history includes 19 championships and more than 220 victories in sports cars (Rolex 24, 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Le Mans), NASCAR (Daytona 500, Brickyard 400) and IndyCar (four Indianapolis 500s).

That resume includes a successful run in Global Rallycross, too, but Extreme E will be significantly different than just “an electrified Dakar Rally” as some have described it.

The series will be contested with 3,600-pound electric SUVs with peak 400kw (550 horsepower) battery-powered output that go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. Teams can use series bodies, build their own or align with a manufacturer to outfit the common chassis with a body.

Teams will take delivery on the cars at the end of the year, and they will be transported between races on a “floating garage” called the RMS St. Helena (Hull said Extreme E determined transport by ship was 30 percent less harmful to the environment than air travel).

The series will race next year in Lac Rose, Dakar, Senegal (Jan. 23-24); Al-‘Ula, Saudi Arabia (March 5-6); Kali Gandaki Valley, Mustang District, Nepal (May 14-15); Kangerlussuaq, Greenland (Aug. 28-29); Santarem, Para, Brazil (Oct. 30-31).

In a post-pandemic world, Extreme E already was planning to race without fans as a TV-only event (it likely will be on Fox, Hull said) that also will produce a Netflix-style documentary series on the season.

Hull said Ganassi probably will hire a half-dozen members to staff the team and also will need a male and female driver. To promote gender equity, Extreme E will have a man and woman compete together in every two-lap race, taking turns behind the wheel.

Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti, whose team announced its Extreme E entry last month, said in a release last week that his organization was “equally as excited to share in the news of the new sporting regulations promoting gender equality. As the mindset of motorsports continues to evolve, it is efforts like these from Extreme E that will help bring new opportunities to light.”

Extreme E has a list of drivers who have registered with the series.

Ganassi has had preliminary conversations with candidates, and Hull said the team was seeking those with “an off-road background in shale, asphalt, dirt, gravel, uneven terrain and riverbeds” and noted drivers could come from racing on two or four wheels (noting Jimmie Johnson and Robby Gordon started motorcycles before entering off road).

Hull said he, Ganassi and chief operating officer Doug Duchardt are hoping to attend one of the five races next year to see that “the love of what we do can make a difference.

“There’s lots of locations they scouted that our civilization can make a difference if we choose to do so,” Hull said. “If you think about the amount of time it’s taken for the climate to change, it takes the same amount of time for it to be reversed.

“And so it doesn’t really matter to me which side of the political fence you’re on, or what your ideology is, you’d have to have stepped onto the earth today from Mars not to understand that changes are happening, and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, if this doesn’t change and go back in a different direction, are going to be adversely affected by what’s going on today.”

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”