By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - In a motor racing first inspired by mixed doubles tennis, the Extreme E electric off-road series plans to pit male and female drivers against each other in equal numbers and the same machinery when it launches next year.
Series boss Alejandro Agag, who also founded the all-electric Formula E, said eight teams would each have a male and female driver who will take turns at the wheel of their shared and identical 550 horsepower SUVs.
The environmentally-focused series aims to highlight climate change with races in five remote and harsh locations and without spectators with the action filmed for television as 'docu-sport'.
Car crews will compete in two lap races as driver and co-driver, with a changeover after the first lap.
"They (the teams) have freedom of strategy. They can put the man first or the woman first," Agag told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
"I’m a very big fan of the mixed doubles in tennis. I used to follow Martina Navratilova when she was continuing her career in mixed doubles. Both members of the team are equally decisive for victory.
"I think this is what makes this concept interesting. But probably only Extreme E can do it," added the Spaniard, who said there was no shortage of women drivers good enough to take the seats.
Formula One has not had a female driver start a grand prix since 1976 while women are outnumbered in other areas of motorsport with the exception of the new all-female W Series.
Formula E has no women on the starting grid, nor does rallying's top WRC category although Jutta Kleinschmidt of Germany won the Dakar in 2001.
"We are striving for equality, and this sporting format is the truest reflection of that goal," said Agag. "Everybody will race together and the most effective combination of drivers, team, engineer and car will rise to the top."
Michele Mouton, who finished runner-up in the 1982 world rally championship and is now president of the FIA women in motorsport commission, welcomed the move.
Britain's Katherine Legge, who raced in Formula E in 2014-15 and has twice finished the Indianapolis 500, was also enthusiastic.
"Hearing the format was like waking up on Christmas morning. It is a giant step in the right direction for motorsport as a whole. I have been looking forward to something like this my entire racing career," she said in an Extreme E statement.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)