Extreme E, the innovative all-electric SUV off-road racing series, has garnered a lot of buzz two races into its inaugural five race season.
Top Formula 1 drivers Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button own Extreme E teams, with the latter getting behind the wheel.
Each two-driver Extreme E team is made up of a man and a woman.
Locations were chosen to highlight different impacts of climate change: Desertification was the theme for Race 1 in AlUla, Saudi Arabia; sea level rise and plastic waste were the focus for Race 2 in Dakar, Senegal.
Race 3 — with its focus on the melting ice sheet — will take place in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on August 28-29. As the green flag approaches, GreenSportsBlog interviewed 23-year old British driver Jamie Chadwick of Veloce Racing. Currently in 4th place with partner Stéphane Sarrazin, Chadwick shared her thoughts on her career to date, her interest in climate change, and Extreme E.
GreenSportsBlog: Jamie, before we get into your interest in climate change and your Extreme E journey, let’s go back to your start in auto racing. How, when and why did you get into motorsport?
Jamie Chadwick: I started karting when I was around 12 and absolutely loved it! It was probably the happiest I’ve ever been in motorsport. My brother Oliver was already competing and I thought it looked like something I might try my hand at. I had a fair bit of success at the club level, picking up a few wins and some decent results, and that was that — I had the bug and knew this was what I wanted to do!
Now growing up, I played a fair bit of sport, and was actually invited to a trial with England under-18 hockey team, but turned it down to go for the Ginetta Junior Scholarship weekend.
GSB: What is that?
Jamie: Ginetta is the biggest youth prize in British motorsport.
I managed to win the scholarship, which got me a seat alongside my brother for the 2013 season when I was 15. It was nice to have that family support during my first campaign, and things really started to pick up from there. I spent another year in Ginetta Juniors before moving up to the British GT Championship, where I won the GT4 title in 2015.
GSB: …When you were 17, which is the age at which I got my driver’s license. Incredible. What makes you a good racer?
Jamie: I’m so competitive, which you need to be if you’re going to succeed in motorsport. Even back when I was karting, I always wanted to win and be the fastest. It doesn’t matter who I’m lining up against, I am always looking for the marginal gains that might give me an advantage over the opposition.
I started off my career sportscar racing before transitioning to single-seaters, while competing in Extreme E with Veloce Racing has added another dimension to my skillset. Experiencing all these different types of series can only be a good thing, allowing me to adapt my driving style depending on the situation.
GSB: Speaking of single-seater racing, you won the first W Series championship in 2019, besting 19 racers — congratulations! What separated you from your competition?
Jamie: Thank you!
It was a major milestone in my career, and an achievement I am probably most proud of to date. There were so many really talented women on the grid, so to come out on top required plenty of commitment and a little bit of luck. We were aiming for consistent performance levels throughout the campaign, which we definitely achieved, and our hard work was rewarded at the end of the season.
Obviously I’d love to successfully defend my title this year – especially after having teamed up with Veloce again – but I know it won’t be easy. Of course, I’ll be giving it everything and will be gunning for glory but it’s important to take each race as it comes and not get ahead of ourselves.
GSB: You’re also a Formula 1 development driver — you are super-busy, Jamie! What competitive differences are there, if any, between W Series and F1?
Jamie: Well, W Series is a single-specification series, so all the cars should be identical. This places emphasis on the driver to make the difference, which I really enjoy. You can see how you directly stack up against the opposition, which is part of why the championship is so appealing.
F1 has significant differences in the performance levels between teams, sometimes making it harder for drivers to show their true pace, but it’s obviously the pinnacle of single-seater motorsport. It’s where every driver wants to end up.
The addition of W Series onto the F1 support package is a huge step forward for the championship, and will hopefully highlight a pathway for women into the elite tier of motorsport.
GSB: What will it take, what improvements do you need to make to get to F1? What’s your timetable?
Jamie: I’m just taking every race as it comes. I am currently fully focused on maximizing my performance for Veloce Racing, and my goal is to defend my title. There is no point wondering about what might happen down the line, as everything in motorsport can change rapidly. I just have to be as quick and as consistent as I can be, and everything else will hopefully fall into place.
GSB: I wouldn’t bet against you, I’ll tell you that! Pivoting to the environment, what prompted your interest in climate change and when did that interest begin?
Jamie: Climate change is naturally a subject close to my heart.
As part of the generation needing to be increasingly more aware of our environment, and having grown up in the countryside in England, for me it is more relevant than ever to be raising awareness. Extreme E allows me to do what I love most without the downside of harming the environment, all while drawing attention to the issues at hand – so it really is a win-win.
GSB: Given your passion for climate action, becoming an Extreme E driver seems like a no-brainer…
Jamie: Everything Extreme E stands for, from a climate change point of view, and also gender equality, I think it ticks all the boxes of a championship that I want to be a part of.
From an environmental point of view, to be able to use motorsport – which obviously doesn’t have the best reputation – as a platform to raise climate awareness, is an amazing thing and something that I’m really proud to be a part of.
Also, regarding the gender equality issue, having one male and one female driver is as fair as it really gets in terms of promoting gender equality. It’s definitely something that I hope is followed and I hope other championships start following suit with because I think it’s definitely moving the conversation in the right direction.
GSB: How do you find the Odyssey 21 E-SUV to drive and how is it to race off road on deserts and other rough terrains?
Jamie: It’s so different to what I am used to. But the ability to be able to jump into different cars and switch your brain into, I guess, slightly different racing modes has helped me adapt. I can jump into the Odyssey 21, for example, and I don’t try to drive it like a single-seater. Having done quite a lot of different series over the past few years, that’s definitely helped.
Racing off-road is very instinctive. The conditions are changing constantly and we don’t have much time to learn the circuits so being able to be comfortable with the car from the off has been very pleasing. The car itself is really exciting to drive. It’s a handful, but it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had behind the wheel.
GSB: What is it like to be part of the Veloce team?
Jamie: Veloce is a family. I’ve been in the fold for a long time, and we share the same values. We all work brilliantly as a team, and I love being part of it. They are all about challenging what’s considered normal and disrupting the status quo. Together we’re hoping that our participation in Extreme E will help change how people view gender roles in all motorsport while shining a light on the need to take real action on climate.
GSB: You and partner w/ Stéphane Sarrazin currently sit in 4th place after the first two Extreme E races, thanks to a strong 2nd place in Race 2 in Senegal. How is it to race with him and how do you complement each other?
Jamie: Stéphane is massively experienced and has been invaluable in helping me get to grips with Extreme E. He is super talented and we get on really well, so it has been brilliant being able to learn from someone of his pedigree.
GSB: Finally Jamie, one last question on climate. Athletes often cite fear of being branded as a hypocrite — “I have a big carbon footprint because I fly a lot” — as a reason for not speaking out. Being in motorsports which run on fossil fuels (except of course for Extreme E and Formula E), you must have heard that criticism. How have you dealt with it?
Jamie: We have obviously all heard those criticisms, but I — and Veloce as a team — recognize the platform and voice that high-profile motorsport series such as W Series and Extreme E offer and we are keen to use this in order to engage fans and educate our audience on environmental, as well as societal sustainability issues.
All motorsport is working towards a cleaner, more sustainable future, and we are all pulling in the same direction. If drivers can start conversations around sustainability, they have the potential to reach a large section of the population and influence change.
Photo at top: Jamie Chadwick during the second Extreme E race in Dakar, Senegal (Photo credit: Veloce Racing)
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