Zenith Zenith X Extreme E and The Race with No Trace
Alejandro Agag talks about partnering with Zenith, buying a boat from the British Government, and the future of carbon capture
How did you meet Julien Tornare, the CEO of Zenith?
Agag: I remember, I was on the boat, Saint Helena, on the Red Sea and the reception wasn’t great! I was navigating at the time and it was a nightmare. I remember the moment well because there was this owl that came out of nowhere and landed on the ship. It was flying around at night as I was talking to Julien. We made a deal in 15 minutes.
What appealed to you about Zenith?
The watches are cool. I was already familiar with them so when we were introduced, I was super excited. And then when Julien told me about the Defy Extreme line, that made it even more exciting because the fit is good with the names Extreme E and Defy Extreme.
Alejandro Agag © Zenith
Can you tell us about your choice of race locations that are always in troubled zones when it comes to climate change?
The mission is to raise awareness and take action, direct action. So, we do beach cleanups. In Senegal, we are planting a million mangroves. In Brazil, we are reforesting parts of the rainforest in collaboration with other NGOs. The places we go to are not really pristine, sadly. We just came from Greenland and it is a huge dump there, and of course, the whole place is melting.
How did you come up with the idea?
The original idea came from Formula E and now that this is mature, I wanted to create something with even more links to climate change. I also wanted to do something off-road and go to these remote locations because I love traveling and going on adventures to see the extreme character of these places.
Can you tell me about the cars?
The cars are off-road SUVs and they are all the same. Each team has both a female and a male driver and the races are very exciting and very aggressive.
How do you charge the vehicles?
The cars have hydrogen fuel cells. We needed to make the whole thing sustainable but it is a huge challenge because there is no power in these locations. We have solar panels that charge a battery, the battery powers an electrolyzer, which then transforms water into hydrogen. The hydrogen powers a fuel cell that charges the car and it produces water as a by-product.
How do you create the track?
So, it’s not a track, it is a big open space. And then you have flags that you have to go through. Sometimes the flags are 100 metres apart so they can take their own lines. The drivers study the course first to see where the bumps are, which lines to take, etc.
Is safety an issue when you are out in the wilderness?
We have big crashes but the cars are extremely safe, they are homologated by the FIA. We always have helicopters to take people to the nearest hospital. In Greenland, where the closest hospital is in Iceland, we had a helicopter ready to take a potential patient to an airplane where the pilot was ready and waiting to make the two-hour flight.
Zenith Extreme-E Legacy program in Sardinia © Zenith
Tell me about the teams?
There are 10 teams. Some are owned by companies and others are owned by individuals. GM has a team, Hummer, and Volkswagon too. And McLaren and Lotus are going to have teams next year. Louis Hamilton has his own team as does Nico Rosenberg, and Carlos Sainz, the famous rally driver.
Why did you decide to make this a dual-sex competition?
For me, the gender equality element is the biggest innovation and I think many sports will follow this. There is this theory that men and women can race cars equally fast, but this is not the case as there is so much G-force on your neck when driving, which requires physical strength. It is a very important factor. Some people say, it is just driving a car, but it is not just driving a car. Women in motorsport were not really present before, but if you make them part of the team, then they are equally important. We have seen that the level of our female drivers has increased so much and the difference now between some of the male and female drivers is getting smaller and smaller. And these girls are becoming really big stars.
Extreme-E © Zenith
Are there any other sustainable technologies that come into play in this competition?
So, in the race there are the electric engines and the charging hydrogen, then we recycle everything. So basically, we call the race a “race with no trace”. If you go to the places we have been, you can’t see that we have been there. The toilets on the ship are eco-friendly, and we have furniture that is made from ocean plastic. We have changed the fuel for the ship, so we are using light fuel instead of the heavy diesel we were using before. And we are putting a special filter on the ship to capture carbon, which for me, is the key technology for the next 50 years. If you don’t capture carbon from the atmosphere, you are not going to be able to reverse climate change because there is already so much carbon in the air and it is already warming.
A question for you, Julien. Why did this partnership appeal to you so much?
Julien: it is a very natural fit. And for us, we have been taking measures to be cleaner, internally for already three or four years now. We had this partnership with Range Rover which was really nice, but at some point, I realized that we had to do something else. I had a proposal from Aston Martin, as well as from other brands, to make a regular partnership, but I wasn’t all that excited by that. And when I heard about this project, and I started to get to know Alejandro and hear more about it, I said this is cool. We are also working a lot on diversity and inclusion. It is only the beginning because our collaboration is very recent, but we started quickly and we started strong. It is totally in line with our mission of crafting the future and I love it!