Why Extreme E’s transition year might be its most intriguing season yet

‘Transition year’. It’s almost a metaphor for those “pardon our appearance” signs that pop up around construction work. It basically says “bear with us, this year might be boring, but next year will be better”.

Extreme E is about to embark on its own transition year ahead of its big relaunch as the hydrogen-centric Extreme H in 2025. But the coming season won’t be boring. Firstly, by its very nature, the races in Extreme E just aren’t boring – too much goes on in them for that – but this year there’s been one of the busiest silly seasons since the series came into existence, and it opens up plenty of intrigue before the 10-race schedule gets underway.

For a series that is ultimately on the small side – compared to the likes of Formula 1 and the NASCAR Cup Series, at least – there’s been plenty of drama since the 2023 season finale. Beforehand, in fact. From the eight teams that will contest this season, only three – Andretti Altawkilat, Rosberg X Racing, and E.ON Veloce Racing – will have the same driver lineup. Three others have made major changes, and there are two completely new teams.


Of those changing, NEOM McLaren’s made the biggest moves. After invoking memories of its Can-Am days by running an American and a Kiwi – Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour – in its first two seasons, McLaren has gone for an entirely different approach for its third crack at Extreme E.

RACER knows of as many as seven different drivers being linked with the papaya team in the final months of 2023, but by ultimately hiring a champion – former X44 driver Cristina Gutierrez – and someone who probably should have been one – Mattias Ekstrom – it comes into the new year as one of the most lethal teams in the field.

But it’s far from alone. Another X44 exile, Fraser McConnell, will take Ekstrom’s place at champions-in-waiting Acciona Sainz. The Jamaican is largely thought of as a rising star, but that’s doing him a disservice. He’s already a two-time race-winner in Extreme E, as well as a multiple event winner in the U.S.-based Nitrocross series, and will form a formidable partnership with Laia Sanz at the Spanish team that wants to avenge a painful last-lap defeat in 2023.

With McLaren and Sainz’s refreshed driver lineups, we already have a potential five-way title fight on our hands. Both will be more than a match for reigning champions Rosberg X Racing, Veloce Racing – coming off a similarly strong but ultimately unfortunate season to Sainz  – and the often fast, but more often unfortunate Andretti team, all of which are keeping their proven driver lineups.

Andretti and Veloce will be two of the three teams maintaining their 2023 driver lineups. Alastair Staley/Motorsport Images

Andretti and Veloce’s retention of drivers comes as no surprise, with the former’s Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen, and the latter’s Molly Taylor and Kevin Hansen all tied to long-term deals. RXR keeping Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Kristoffersson ought to have been just as obvious since they’d just won the championship, but given that the team swapped Taylor for Ahlin-Kottulinsky after triumphing in Season 1, history repeating itself couldn’t be ruled out until the team confirmed both.

The final mover from the existing pool of teams is JBXE. Andreas Bakkerud will be back for his first full season, being joined by Saudi driver Dania Akeel who perhaps should have been in Extreme E long before now given her pedigree as one of the Middle East’s most prominent female off-road racers. Bakkerud is a proven quantity, and Akeel may have a decent resume already, as well, but that team is perhaps the biggest unknown of the year – even more so than the series’ newest entrants that arrive off the back of a handful of departures.

Team exits have been a bit of an unfortunate theme this off-season: OEM-backed teams Abt Cupra and GMC Hummer EV Chip Ganassi Racing have left for business reasons relating to their road car operations and the lack of an interest in hydrogen, while entries named after Lewis Hamilton and superstar DJ Carl Cox will also have different identities this year.

Replacements are already in play. SUN Minimeal was the first team announced as a new arrival for 2024. Team boss and driver Timo Scheider and teammate Klara Andersson both have podium pedigree in the category, but now have locked in long-term futures and stable teammates for the first time, giving both perhaps the best platform they’ve ever had in the series. That stability should stand both in good stead, allowing them to fulfil their full potential.

But out of the number of intriguing storylines in the last few months, the biggest one, and certainly the most surprising one, was left late. The arrival of NASCAR icon Jimmie Johnson’s Legacy Motor Club was something nobody saw coming.

Jimmie Johnson will follow in his Garage 56 teammate Jenson Button’s footsteps. Nikolaz Godet/Motorsport Images

Of the big-name champion drivers who’ve ventured into team ownership, Johnson is likely be the most credible from behind the wheel. His Garage 56 teammate Jenson Button quit driving after one race when he realized he wasn’t up to the task, Nico Rosberg has been comfortable enough serving just as a team boss – Johan Kristoffersson steamrolls the competition in what could’ve been his seat – while Lewis Hamilton never even ventured into the paddock during his team’s three-year stay in the series, the seven-time Formula 1 world champion’s participation limited to a handful of social media video appearances.

Johnson, despite being best known as a seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion who has sampled IndyCar and sports car racing in recent years, is well versed in off-road. He was a serial race-winner in Short Course in the 1990s, before he hit the big time, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in Extreme E.

Thanks to his ‘day job’, however, he’ll be missing the season-opener. His spot will be taken by Travis Pastrana, who knows a thing about winning on loose surfaces. He’ll be instantly quick – a stage win at last weekend’s Sno*Drift rally in the U.S. proving that recent knee surgery hasn’t taken away any of his speed.

Occupying the female driver spot at Legacy MC will be Gray Leadbetter, an emerging talent in the off-road world who’s been handpicked by Pastrana as something of a potential successor. The two have raced against each other in Side-by-Sides in Nitrocross, where the 19 year old hasn’t finished below fourth in the 2023-24 season, so any adjustment or team-building period will be fast-tracked, at least at the season-opener. All three Legacy MC drivers are new to Extreme E, but the blend of youth and experience will be fascinating to watch all year.

So despite doubts about the validity of the 2024 season, the reality is that it could be an incredibly interesting season. The construction work is ongoing, the focus is firmly on 2025, but don’t write off this year yet. You won’t need to pardon its appearance, because thanks to the big game of musical chairs, the 2024 season is likely to be the best one yet for the category.

Story originally appeared on Racer