By Alan Baldwin
(Reuters) - Extreme E founder Alejandro Agag is thanking his lucky stars already as his new electric off-road racing series prepares to debut in the deserts of Saudi Arabia this weekend.
Getting to the start line has been no easy feat for the Spaniard and his vision of racing SUVs in the remotest parts of the planet to highlight the effects of climate change and promote sustainability.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the logistical challenges of Brexit and even the recent blockage of the Suez Canal by a giant container ship have been obstacles overcome or narrowly avoided.
"I will be relieved on Sunday when the race is done," Agag told Reuters on Wednesday from the St. Helena, a former British mail ship that serves as a floating base for teams and scientists and is currently off the Saudi coast.
"I’m happy that we’re here. We had (to deal with) COVID, we had Brexit that made it difficult to bring the cars into the UK to load them on the ship in Liverpool, we had many different obstacles.
"By a few days we didn’t get blocked in the Suez canal which would have meant cancelling the race. With a bit of luck we were able to be here."
Extreme E has a schedule of five rounds, from Saudi's Al Ula to Senegal, Greenland, the Brazilian rain forest and Argentine glaciers of Tierra del Fuego.
The areas are suffering from environmental damage but the series has science-based programmes, working with experts, aimed at restoring and protecting.
It announced on Wednesday a legacy programme to support turtle conservation along a stretch of the Red Sea shoreline.
The initial vision was for the series to be a packaged "docu-sport" but races will now be shown live due to the level of interest from broadcasters around the world and the involvement of big names from motorsport.
Nine-times world rally champion Sebastian Loeb is competing, along with 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button and triple Dakar Rally winner and double rally world champion Carlos Sainz.
"This is something completely new," Sainz, 58, told Reuters from the boat. "I think it can be very spectacular.
"I said to myself I would like to have some experience in electric motorsport, it was probably my last chance. I think we need to have an open mind about what we are going to find."
Loeb is representing the team of seven-times F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, run by British motorsport company Prodrive.
Nico Rosberg, the 2016 F1 champion, has a team too while Jamie Chadwick, the inaugural winner of the all-female W Series, is racing for Veloce. Chip Ganassi Racing and U.S. track rivals Andretti Autosport also have teams.
Every crew must feature a male and female driver taking turns at the wheel.
Qualifying is on Saturday and the final on Sunday, without spectators.
"I am massively surprised by how much interest this is generating," said Agag, who also founded the Formula E championship.
"The sporting element has grown within the space we dedicated to it in the project because of the live broadcasting, but the documentary side is very important because that is where we can go in more detail on the environmental issues."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)