ASSAULT AND BATTERY
MOTOR Magazine Australia|Annual 2020
WE SAMPLE THE SPARK ODYSSEY 21, THE 400KW MACHINE THAT’S PUTTING THE EXCITEMENT INTO THE EXTREME E SERIES
HAL RIDGE

FOR DECADES, WORLD Rally Championship and Dakar Rally teams have used the easily accessible Chateau de Lastours facility in the South of France as the roughest of proving grounds to put fledgling competition creations through their paces. Think Ford Focus WRC, Hyundai i20 WRC and Peugeot 2008 DKR to name but a few. Those machines have gone on to succeed in some of the harshest terrains on the planet, after first going through this very development school.

It’s therefore fitting that the major initial running of the new Odyssey 21 E-SUV – the spec car that will be campaigned in the nascent all-electric Extreme E offroad racing championship – has been undertaken on those same gravel roads.

The inaugural 2021 XE calendar will visit five locations: Saudi Arabia (Desert X-Prix), Senegal (Ocean X-Prix), Greenland (Arctic X-Prix), Brazil (Amazon X-Prix) and Argentina (Glacier X-Prix). Each type of terrain will pose challenges that cannot be exactly mirrored, and each round will mark some of the most remote top-flight races ever held. It’s all part of XE’s bid to highlight areas that have been hit hardest by the climate crisis. So, the chateau’s roads have been put to use to plan for as many eventualities as possible.

Feeding the development of the Odyssey 21 – conceived by Spark Racing Technology, maker of the spec Formula E chassis – there’s been input from a raft of drivers. World Rally, World Rallycross and FE champions plus Formula 1 race winners have all had their turns behind the wheel. Last month, just days after Mercedes grand prix racer Valtteri Bottas and WRC legend Sebastien Loeb had occupied the same seat, we had the chance to sample this new racer.

The test took place on a loose-surface track in the foothills of the Chateau de Lastours site. Of the many top-class drivers that ran during the official test week, only a select few actually took to the rough rally raidstyle stages.

On arrival at the venue in the dark, there’s chance for a quick recce of the circuit. On the way down the access track, it’s time to slow to a crawl in Europcar’s cheapest rental hatchback to negotiate three huge bulges in the road, which cover drainage pipes under the surface.

The sun rises, we’re aboard the Odyssey 21 just an hour later, and the 2.3-metre-wide car rides over the trio of mounds in the manner that a Range Rover would disregard urban speed bumps. It gives a small glimpse into the XE machine’s all-terrain capabilities.

With an identical 250kW motor front and rear, and a Williams Advanced Engineering-developed 800v Lithium-ion battery pack sitting behind the driver’s compartment, the Odyssey 21 delivers 400kW, can reach 100km/h in less than 4.5 seconds on dirt, and climb gradients of up to 130%.

Each round of the maiden campaign will feature different surfaces, from loose sand to boulders and everything in between. SRT had a clean sheet of paper to design the Odyssey 21, albeit steered somewhat by XE and FE co-founder Alejandro Agag and his team’s vision.

Without rules to follow, and led by engineer Theo Gouzin, SRT evaluated a Safari Rally-style car concept. But as plans for the series’ nature matured, the French firm went for a cross-country/Dakar/rally raid-type platform instead. And while Dakar rules seek parity between two- and four-wheel drive machines by giving technical benefits such as increased suspension travel and tyre size to the two-wheel-drive cars, SRT cherrypicked the best from a range of rulesets to create the ultimate electric off-road racer.

With one pedestrian rental-car lap of experience under the belt, and having glanced briefly at an onboard with reigning World RX champion Timmy Hansen at the wheel from a few days earlier, we head out on track.

The jaw-dropping torque delivery of EV powertrains never ceases to amaze, although in the Spark it’s comparable to an electric rallycross car. Coupled with the Odyssey 21’s sophisticated torque distribution system working underneath, even a ginger application of the right pedal results in the car hurtling through the first right-left kink on the circuit. The rear immediately steps out as the purpose-made Continental tyres scrabble for traction on the loose surface.

The course is scattered with a range of surfaces, from clean lines thanks to a week’s worth of running, to rougher gravel then slimy mud. The area has been drenched by heavy overnight rain.

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