Lance Woolridge, a two-time Class T Production Vehicle champion in the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), has been selected to join the UK-based Veloce Racing team for the inaugural season of the global Extreme E series.
Woolridge has been signed up as the reserve and development driver for the Veloce Racing squad, which features legendary Formula One designer Adrian Newey in its leadership team. Woolridge will be the only South African driver involved in this innovative new all-electric series, which will compete in some of the most remote locations around the world to highlight the impact of climate change.
In his reserve and development role, Woolridge will be supporting Veloce Racing’s lead pairing of Frenchman Stéphane Sarrazin and reigning W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.
The Extreme E series was founded by the same visionary team that established Formula E. The 2021 season will be staged across five diverse environments, kicking off in AlUla in Saudi Arabia (3-4 April), followed by Dakar, Senegal (29-30 May), Kangerlussuaq, Greenland (28-29 August), Pará, Brazil (23-24 October) and Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina (11-12 December).
“It’s a huge privilege being selected to join Veloce Racing, which has performed a masterstroke in bringing together a team that is ready to take on anything the upcoming year in Extreme E is going to throw at us, and I’m very proud to be a part of this journey from the start,” Woolridge says.
“Extreme E has already created a lot of interest globally, as it features some of the world’s top drivers and motorsport personalities. It promises to deliver plenty of great action while bringing much-needed attention to crucial environmental issues,” he adds. “Sport, and the exciting world of motorsport in particular, has the ability to captivate nations. The high-tech nature of Extreme E is a fantastic way of promoting innovation, while simultaneously raising awareness regarding sustainability and the urgent need for drastic changes from all of us in the way we go about our daily living.”
The 29-year-old Woolridge brings a wealth of cross country racing experience to the team, with 12 years in the highly competitive South African series, including consecutive Class T Production Vehicle titles in 2018 and 2019.
He gave the globally successful Ford Ranger V8 – designed and built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) – victory on its South African debut in 2013, making him the youngest race winner in the domestic championship. He also finished as runner-up in the arduous 2016 Rally dos Sertões in Brazil.
According to Ian Davies, team manager of Veloce Racing, both male drivers add great experience to the team. “Stéphane and Lance worked extremely well with Jamie and Veloce’s engineering team at our recent test in Spain, and their different skillsets and experience complemented each other perfectly. Lance is well accustomed to vehicles like the ODYSSEY 21 from his cross-country racing and has a very well developed mechanical understanding, so he will be able to provide valuable input for the team.”
The test in Aragón, Spain during December 2020 was Lance’s second opportunity to drive the ODYSSEY 21, but it was the first chance to drive the car with full power. An earlier private test with the Veloce Racing team in France saw the car’s power restricted.
“In France, Jamie and I, along with the rest of the team, had three full days to meet each other and get to know the car. It was a half-power test, but we played with every setting we could just to learn the car and understand everything it does,” Woolridge explains. “Ian Davies and team engineer Frederic Guyot really shone through here with great leadership and experience.
“The Spain test was the first time we drove the car with full power, and with all the other teams and drivers present, it was the first chance for us to see where we are regarding performance and setup. We learnt a lot more from this test and it’s all in the thinking pot now as we work hard ahead of the first race which will be in Saudi Arabia in April,” he adds.
“The plan is for me to be at all the races this year to provide input and learn, while ensuring that I am ready to slot into the race seat should the need arise. I’m really looking forward to being part of this pioneering journey with Veloce Racing and Extreme E and travelling to these amazing locations – specifically Saudi Arabia which currently hosts the Dakar Rally, as well as Dakar in Senegal where the Dakar Rally began, the remote regions of Greenland, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Patagonia in Argentina.”
Woolridge will continue competing in the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) in 2021 for the Neil Woolridge Motorsport team, which is backed by Ford South Africa and Ford Performance. He will debut the cutting-edge, all-new Ford Ranger developed by the NWM team to compete in the premier FIA-class.
Extreme locations, innovative format
Extreme E adopts a unique format, with each team comprising two drivers, which must include one male and one female, who alternate the driving and navigation duties for the two laps that make up each race.
“This is a really interesting new race format and a massive learning curve for all involved, but particularly for me where I usually have to rely entirely on myself as the driving responsibility in the car,” Woolridge states. “Now there are so many more factors that are going to have to be perfected to get a win. The female and male drivers need to be as close as possible in performance, the team and vehicle maintenance need to be faultless and the driver changes have to be clean-cut.
“Everyone also needs to get to grips with the electric nature of the car, including refining its setup to maximise performance and maintaining the highest levels of safety. It’s certainly a lot more pressure than normal cross country racing, but it is a challenge and opportunity that I relish.”
Teams will all compete with identical ODYSSEY 21 all-electric SUVs in these extreme conditions. The cars are manufactured by Spark Racing Technology, featuring McLaren drivetrains, batteries produced by Williams Advanced Engineering, and tyres supplied by Continental. Power output is rated at 400kW, with the vehicles weighing 1 650kg and capable of a 0-100 km/h time of 4.5 seconds.
“The car is really fantastic. The instant power and torque are mind-blowing,” Woolridge reveals. “With it being fully electric with no link between the front and rear axles, there is so much to play with, from the torque distribution mappings between front and rear axles to the steering sensitivity, lateral G percentage adjustments to find more grip, and the usual pedal sensitivity maps.”
All of the Extreme E freight, infrastructure and logistics will travel by sea to each event’s nearest port, using the repurposed and completely refurbished former Royal Mail Ship, the 7 000-ton St Helena, as a floating garage to significantly reduce freight emissions in comparison to air travel. It also houses an on-board laboratory to facilitate scientific research.